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Uber & Lyft End Mandatory Arbitration for Sexual Assault Claims

By: Allan M. Siegel

Uber and Lyft have become immensely successful rideshare services, providing customers with convenient access to local drivers nearby. Unfortunately, the nature of these services pose some risks to passengers, including risks of sexual assault and misconduct. Now, the companies will no longer require victims who bring forth allegations of sexual assault or rape to have their claims handled in forced arbitration.

Over the years, both companies have come under scrutiny in cases where victims have alleged sexual assault against drivers. Prior to their announcement, both Uber and Lyft had policies which contained binding arbitration clauses customers accepted as a condition of using their services.

These clauses are commonly used by corporations who provide services to consumers, and they require any disputes or claims brought by customers against the company to be handled in arbitration, where the scales are commonly tipped in favor of corporations and where victims face an uphill battle to prevail in their cases.

Uber and Lyft’s decision to end the criticized practice of forced arbitration is likely a response to the current social climate, where sexual assault and misconduct have become hot-button issues, and which champions the rights of victims. Although it is certainly a victory for victims, many believe it should have been done earlier. This step in the right direction could also go further. For example, both rideshare companies can implement measures to better protect customers and prevent assaults from happening in the first place, such as:

  • Better background checks on drivers
  • Prohibiting applicants with certain criminal offenses on their record from driving
  • Standardized policies to appropriately investigate and resolve sexual assault allegations
  • Improved technology to allow for in-app reporting and emergency notifications
  • Shared reporting of complaints between services, as many drivers work for both Uber and Lyft

Forced Arbitration Slashes Victims’ Rights

Uber and Lyft’s announcement provides an opportunity to educate the public about just how detrimental forced arbitration clauses can be for consumers when they need to bring forth claims of misconduct and wrongdoing. Frequently hidden in the fine print of contracts or terms and services agreements, including nursing home contracts, forced arbitration clauses hurt victims and help corporations. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Bias Decision-Makers – Forced arbitration prevents victims from taking claims to civil court, and instead requires them to participate in private proceedings overheard by a private arbitrator, paid for by the corporation, rather than an impartial judge. Because these arbitrators are being paid by the corporation and want repeat business, it incentivizes them to rule against victims.
  • Lack of Transparency – One of the biggest reasons why corporations use forced arbitration is to prevent victims’ allegations from becoming public. Proceedings and records in civil court are open to the public, allow for greater transparency and accountability, and help establish unacceptable patterns of neglect and misconduct when new claims are brought forward. By using arbitration, however, most companies require proceedings to be kept confidential, even if they are important to the health and safety of other customers, or the public at large.
  • Costs & Requirements – Most forced arbitration clauses unfairly burden victims who bring claims against a company. Often, victims are forced to waive their rights, which allows the company to sue in court. They may also require steep filing fees to only initiate a case, and pay their share of the arbitrator’s hourly fees. Corporations also typically provide themselves with the right to choose the location for proceedings, which can further burden and limit the rights of consumers.
  • Weakened Civil Safeguards – As opposed to civil proceedings, arbitration clauses commonly restrict victims in their ability to argue their side of the story, such as through restrictions on obtaining evidence or appealing adverse decisions.

Although there have been victories in ending forced arbitration, corporations still zealously work to pass laws in their favor. This includes Wall Street’s recent success in rolling back a rule banning mandatory arbitration in financial contracts, a feat included in the American Association for Justice’s report on the Worst Corporate Conduct of 2017.

Sexual Assault & Civil Lawsuits

In addition to highlighting the threat forced arbitration poses to victims’ rights and civil justice, Uber and Lyft’s announcement for dealing with victims’ claims can aid advocates in their calls for better policies that help prevent the acts which led to them in the first place. Arbitration and civil lawsuits are both reactionary in nature – they’re a response to an alleged wrongdoing that could and should have been prevented. As such, Uber and Lyft should be doing more than providing victims with rights they should have always been entitled to in the first place. As advocates agree, this should include better policies to ensure the safety of customers, especially when it comes to vetting potential drivers.

Because Uber and Lyft owe a duty of care to their customers, they can be held accountable for failing to take reasonable measures that protect their safety. This is often why victims of sexual assault committed by rideshare drivers bring direct claims against the company. With the recent move allowing sexual assault claims to be handled in civil court, greater awareness and accountability may follow, and hopefully better measures for rider safety.

Support for Sexual Assault Victims in Washington, DC

As a law firm that focuses on protecting the rights of the injured and the wronged in the civil justice system, we believe that although Uber and Lyft have done the right thing by ending forced arbitration, their commitment to protecting riders should go further. That’s because we have represented victims of sexual assault and misconduct, and we know how difficult such experiences can be. As we work to protect their rights when bringing civil sexual assault or sexual abuse claims, including their right to justice and compensation, we also want these cases to show the importance of prevention and the duties companies must uphold to protect the public.

If you have a potential case to discuss, our attorneys are available to help. Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C. serves clients throughout Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, DC, and offers free and confidential consultation. Contact us to speak with a lawyer.