- Thomson Reuters
- Three women who say they were sexually assaulted by individuals who pretended to be their Uber drivers are suing the rideshare company, according to a complaint recently filed in Los Angeles Superior Court.
- The women, each identified as Jane Doe, have accused Uber of negligence, arguing that the company failed to warn them about fake Uber drivers who were targeting women in the area – despite being allegedly warned by law enforcement.
- Rideshare services, like Uber and Lyft, are facing heightened scrutiny following the death of 21-year-old Samantha Josephson, a University of South Carolina college student who was killed by a man who pretended to be her Uber driver.
- The women in the lawsuit say that since their sexual assaults, they have experienced symptoms such as loss of sleep, anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
- Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more.
For Jane Doe 2, the night of December 30, 2017 was supposed to be an evening with friends at The Down & Out, a popular Los Angeles bar located in a hotel lobby known for the dozens of celebrity mugshots scattered across its walls.
After a few drinks and being separated from her group, she called an Uber and entered a vehicle she believed to be her rideshare. She noticed that the license plate didn’t match the number on her app, but the driver explained that he had recently crashed his car and hadn’t yet updated the new plate.
Except, the vehicle wasn’t her Uber ride. Instead, the driver was Nicolas Morales, an alleged serial rapist, who posed as an Uber driver to coax her into his car. As he drove her away, she received a call from her actual Uber driver, irritated that she entered the wrong car. That driver later drove Jane Doe 2’s route, without her, and she was charged for the ride.
Since that night, Jane Doe No. 2 says she’s suffered “severe psychological and physical damages, mental pain and anguish, and loss of enjoyment of life,” according to a recently filed lawsuit against Uber by Jane Doe 2, as well as two other woman identified as “Jane Doe 1” and “Jane Doe 3.”
Morales was arrested in February after being charged with raping and sexually assaulting seven women while impersonating an Uber driver.
Lawsuit claims Uber was aware of “fake Uber” schemes
The complaint, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court earlier this month, alleges that as early as 2016, Uber was aware of “fake Uber” schemes in which drivers, pretending to be affiliated with the rideshare, lured passengers into their vehicles to sexually assault them. The document, reviewed by INSIDER, claims that these fake drivers specifically sought out young, inebriated woman who frequented popular night clubs and restaurants across Los Angeles.
Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 3 were both tricked by Walter Velasquez, a serial rapist who was sentenced to more than eight years in prison in October for sexually assaulting two women while pretending to drive for Uber. After reporting the incident to police and Uber, Jane Doe 3’s account was deleted by the company, the complaint said, adding that “the Uber Defendants did not immediately cooperate with law enforcement in the investigation, taking more than seven weeks to respond to search warrants in JANE DOE No. 3’s investigation.”
The lawsuit claims that fake Uber sexual assaults were reported in September 2016, October 2016, January 2017, May 2017, June 2017, September 2017, December 2017, and February 2018 in the Los Angeles area – a total of nine alleged assaults – and that law enforcement warned Uber following many of those incidents. The document claims that, despite being notified, Uber never issued warnings to the general public in the aftermath of those assaults.
INSIDER reached out to the Los Angeles Police Department, but the LAPD declined due to the ongoing nature of the case. FEM Law Group, which is representing the women, also declined to comment.
An Uber spokesperson told INSIDER that the company can’t comment on the specifics of the lawsuit, but said that Uber has been working with local law enforcement, including the LAPD, to try and educate the public about how to avoid fake rideshare drivers. For example, the company launched a national campaign in 2017 to educate riders about getting in the right car by checking information in the app, such as the license plate and car make and model.
Jane Doe 2 says she did check her app for the correct license plate, according to the lawsuit.
“Uber Defendants repeatedly made statements that the Uber App provides the name, picture, and license plate number of the driver for Uber passengers to match to prevent encounters with Uber imposters,” the complaint said. “However, Uber Defendants did not and have not take any affirmative precautions to further warn Uber users in specific areas of the continuous Fake Uber scandal assault scheme, particularly when engaging the Uber App.”
Rideshare services, like Uber and Lyft, are facing heightened scrutiny following the death of 21-year-old Samantha Josephson, a University of South Carolina college student who was killed by a man who pretended to be her Uber driver.
In the wake of Josephson’s death, Uber told INSIDER that it will be partnering with the University of South Carolina to raise awareness on college campuses nationwide. The university said in a press release that Uber will host a rideshare learning experience at the school on April 18 with information and demonstrations of safety features in the app.
But, the California lawsuit against Uber argues that the company hasn’t done enough to protect passengers and that, despite knowing about the fake Uber schemes, “intentionally withheld this information from Plaintiffs and did nothing to warn Plaintiffs of the known danger” of fake Uber drivers in the Los Angeles area.
The document adds that Uber currently makes it easy for anyone to disguise themselves as Uber drivers – for instance, there is a “print at home” feature on the company’s website that the complaint argues anyone could use to print a logo and attach to their vehicles.
All three women in the lawsuit say that since their sexual assaults, they have experienced loss of sleep, anxiety, depression, and other symptoms that correspond with rape trauma syndrome and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Uber Defendants have placed profits over safety by deliberately failing to implement any warning system regarding this sexual assault scheme so as to rapidly expand its profits and not deter any potential users,” the complaint said. “This is a calculated decision by senior executives to allow Uber Defendants to attempt to dominate the rideshare market at the expense of public safety.”
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