Recently, this blog discussed a lawsuit where more than one dozen women sought damages based on the rapes or sexual assaults they allegedly suffered at the hands of their Lyft drivers. Certainly, it is entirely possibly for a rideshare company to contract with, and continue using, a driver who’s dangerous without knowing the risk. That lack of knowledge doesn’t insulate the rideshare service from liability; it simply means that the service is only potentially liable based on the legal concept of negligence.
However, what happens, you may wonder, if the service’s culpability goes further? What if the service did know and continued using a driver anyway? If that were true, then the service might be liable both for negligence and for its intentional misconduct which, in turn, could possibly open up additional damages, such as punitive damages. To find out what kind of damages your case might allow you to recover, be sure to reach out swiftly to an experienced Chicago injury attorney to discuss the facts of your specific situation.
This question of negligence versus intentionally wrongful conduct could be of particular interest to some Uber riders. The Washington Post recently reported that Uber has some practices with regard to drivers who pose a risk of sexual misconduct that some may view as troubling. According to the report, the rideshare service uses a “three strikes” system, in which drivers are allowed to stay on the road even after exhibiting inappropriate conduct.
Under the policy, the service only removes a driver after he has racked up three “strikes” for “bad behavior,” and sometimes not even then. The Post reported indicated that Uber executives “made exceptions to keep drivers on the road,” including a New York driver who racked up three complaints for inappropriate sexual advances. Uber’s in-house investigation team targeted the driver for removal, but a company executive overruled the investigator. The driver went on to incur a fourth complaint. In that one, the rider alleged that the driver raped her.
What’s more, members of law enforcement and the legal system are purposefully blocked from receiving this information, according to the report. One Uber investigator in Arizona told the Post that investigators are “forbidden by Uber from routing allegations to police or from advising victims to seek legal counsel or make their own police reports, even when they get confessions of felonies.” Those assertions were backed up by alleged victims, other investigators and plaintiffs’ attorneys. Even if a driver acts so egregiously as to get kicked off Uber, the company still does not inform anyone, leaving open the possibility that the banned driver can freely get contracted with another rideshare service, according to the report.
How Illinois’s punitive damages statute works
So, where does that leave harmed riders? In many circumstances, injury victims can only recover damages from entities like Uber or Lyft for negligence. However, Illinois does have a law that allows certain plaintiffs to recover what’s called “punitive damages.” Punitive damages are an amount added on, in addition other forms of damages like medical expense damages, lost income damages and pain and suffering. They exist to punish the defendant and to deter it and others from engaging in similar bad conduct in the future. Illinois’s law says that a personal injury plaintiff might recover punitive damages if the defendant acted maliciously or “with a reckless and outrageous indifference to a highly unreasonable risk of harm and with a conscious indifference to the rights and safety of others.”
In the Lyft lawsuit, the survivors did not assert that Lyft knew its drivers had predatory tendencies, only that Lyft was not doing enough to identify potential predators and eliminate them from its pool of drivers. The assertions against Uber in the Post report go further, asserting that it did know of complaints about some drivers’ predatory tendencies, purposefully kept that information from law enforcement and, in some cases, took extra steps to keep drivers with histories of multiple alleged attacks on the roads, with Uber’s executives directly involved in taking those extra steps to keep problematic drivers driving for Uber. If all of that was proven in an Illinois court, it raises the possibility that a jury might find it to be “reckless and outrageous indifference to a highly unreasonable risk of harm and with a conscious indifference to the rights and safety of others.”
Stepping inside a stranger’s vehicle can be an extremely vulnerable situation. When you use a rideshare service, you’re trusting that service to provide you a safe ride with a safe and reliable driver. When that service engages in actions that intentionally betray that trust, they should be held accountable. If you’ve been harmed as a result of a predatory or otherwise dangerous Uber or Lyft driver, the experienced Chicago injury attorneys at Katz, Friedman, Eisenstein, Johnson, Bareck & Bertuca are here to help. To set up a free case evaluation, contact us at 800-444-1525 or through our website.