Chicago Workers’ Compensation Lawyers & Illinois Injury Lawyers

What Type of Claim Might an Illinois Uber Passenger Assert if the Company’s Insufficient Screening of Driver Candidates is Believed to Have Contributed to Her Sexual Assault?

| May 29, 2024 | Uber/Lyft |

Over recent months, more and more reports have emerged of Uber and Lyft passengers suffering sexual assaults perpetrated by their drivers. In the past, Uber and Lyft have used drivers’ status as independent contractors to try to avoid liability. However, a new lawsuit says that Uber is liable based upon its own misconduct — namely, an inadequate screening process for drivers. To find out what your legal options are if you’ve been injured by an Uber or Lyft driver, you should speak to an experienced Chicago injury attorney about your situation.

That new lawsuit is happening in Massachusetts. The Patriot-Ledger reported that the passenger, who would eventually become the lawsuit’s plaintiff, was using Uber to get from Quincy, Mass. to Weymouth, Mass. when her driver allegedly drove down a dimly lit street, locked all the vehicle’s doors and raped her inside the car.

According to the passenger’s attorney, assaults like the one she allegedly endured are “not isolated or rare” but are “part of a pattern of heinous, but avoidable, attacks,” the Patriot-Ledger reported.

In the lawsuit, the passenger asserted that a key problem allowing these attacks to occur with such frequency was Uber’s “lax hiring and security screening process.” Uber’s business success was predicated on hiring “as many drivers as possible while incurring minimal associated costs,” according to the lawsuit. That practice allowed the entity to maximize rapid growth while minimizing overhead expenses.

The Massachusetts passenger’s complaint alleged that Uber driver applicants must only complete a few brief forms, submit a driver’s license, and provide proof of vehicle registration and auto insurance. Uber allegedly conducted no in-person interviews, did not verify vehicle ownership, did no Social Security number checks and required drivers to complete no training classes before starting. Perhaps tellingly, the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities said in 2018 that it turned away roughly 1/6 “of the drivers accepted following Uber and competitor Lyft’s background checking process,” according to the lawsuit.

This passenger’s case makes some powerful allegations about the barebones nature of Uber’s driver applicant screening process. If the driver were successful in proving all of these things, she might have a case of negligent hiring.

How does negligent hiring work in Illinois?

If you suffered a similar injury here in the Chicago area, you could raise a claim of negligent hiring. Generally, a hiring entity isn’t liable for an independent contractor’s negligence in Illinois, but there are clear exceptions where the hiring entity can be liable. Those exceptions typically involve scenarios “where the employing party fails to use reasonable care in selecting the contractor or directs the contractor to commit the act in question.”

In almost any passenger sexual assault case, the evidence isn’t going to say that Uber (or Lyft) directed a driver to rape a passenger. However, a sexually assaulted passenger could pursue a case based upon the theory that Uber (or Lyft)’s minimal degree of care in choosing and contracting with a particular driver (who later raped the passenger) fell short of the law’s standard for “reasonable care,” thereby making the entity negligent.

The specific elements you need for this kind of claim in Illinois are that: (1) the defendant “knew or should have known that the contractor was unfit for the required contracted job” and (2) that this unfitness created “a danger of harm to other third parties.” So, for example, if you had proof you were assaulted by a rideshare driver who had a documented history of sexual assault, and that your rideshare entity failed to do any criminal background screening for a history of violent crime, then that might go a long way toward making a persuasive case.

If you’ve been hurt by an Uber or Lyft driver, don’t simply assume that your only option is go after just the driver. Your legal avenues may be more numerous, and more fruitful, than just that. For the keen insight, useful advice and powerful advocacy your case deserves, rely on the knowledgeable Chicago injury attorneys at Katz, Friedman, Eisenstein, Johnson, Bareck & Bertuca. To set up a free case evaluation, contact us at 312-724-5846 or through our website.