(CN) — When Stella Grant lost her job early on in the pandemic, she turned to driving for Lyft to help support herself and her two sons. But a brutal assault at the hands of one of her passengers would mar her life forever.
“That turned out to be the mistake of my life,” she said. “My life changed forever just because of that decision.”
Grant still bears the physical and emotional scars from the attack on Aug. 30, 2021. The woman who got into her car was not the person who had requested the ride, and became irate when Grant tried to verify her identity.
“She quickly began abusing me verbally and physically. She was really violent with me while I was driving and she punched me in the face and back,” Grant said.
When Grant tried to call the police, her assailant forced her way to the front of the vehicle and grabbed the steering wheel.
“I was trying to get control back of my car so we wouldn't crash. I was scared for my life,” Grant said. “She hit me with an object in the face. I started bleeding. Blood was gushing everywhere.”
The assault left her with a scarred lip, chronic back pain and a nagging fear of being attacked again. Grant says she’s too scared to get back on the app. “I'm afraid of being attacked again by a passenger like that. I don't know what I'm going to do to provide for my two boys.”
For attorneys at Peiffer Wolf Carr Kane Conway & Wise, stories like Grant’s are exceedingly common, for both drivers and riders. They say that despite admitting to persistent safety lapses on its platform, Lyft has done nothing to protect drivers and passengers from beatings, rapes and sexual assaults.
On Wednesday, the firm filed an unprecedented raft of lawsuits across the country that claim the ride-hail giant refuses to adequately monitor rides or require in-car cameras and dash cams to mitigate attacks, and ignores complaints from victims of violence.
“Lyft has a responsibility to protect its passengers and drivers, period. Its refusal to do so has resulted in acts of violence that have left our clients with disabilities, permanent deformities and lifelong trauma,” Peiffer Wolf partner Tracey Cowan told reporters at a news conference Wednesday afternoon. “Lyft is not only failing to provide reasonable protection for its users, but even after an assault occurs, Lyft ignores, minimizes or downright stonewalls the victim's efforts to report the incidents and get help.”
Driver Stuart Berman suffered a broken nose and a brain bleed that required two neurosurgeries after being beaten by a drunk passenger. He said he still cannot walk or climb stairs properly. He said Lyft put $750 in his account as compensation, but did nothing else.
Attacks against drivers and passengers are well-known to Lyft, Cowan said, citing a “safety report” the company released in 2021 that revealed 4,158 reports of sexual assaults had occurred during Lyft rides between 2017-2019.
“Predators are still allowed to drive for Lyft,” Cowan said. “There are even forums about how to get laid or get girls' interest during Lyft rides.”
She said Lyft also blocks riders and passengers from obtaining information about their assailants and brushes off reports of attacks with canned responses.
A spokesperson for Lyft disputed these claims in an email sent to Courthouse News late Wednesday, saying 99% of Lyft rides occur without incident. "In our Community Safety Report you can see that the rate of reported sexual assault incidents from 2017 to 2019 remained constant at 0.00002%," they said, adding that Lyft rigorously screens every single driver on its platform. "Violence and harassment are not tolerated on the Lyft platform, and drivers or riders who engage in such behavior or otherwise violate our Community Guidelines can and do result in those users being permanently removed from the platform," the spokesperson said.