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Friday, April 12, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Rider Says Lyft Driver Demanded Sex

SAN DIEGO (CN) - A woman who vomited during a ride in a Lyft car claims in court that the driver followed her into her home and demanded sex in exchange for waiving the $100 cleaning fee.

Virginia Serrano sued Alan Roe and Lyft in on Wednesday in Superior Court.

"It was really a betrayal of trust," her attorney Daniel Gilleon told Courthouse News. "Whenever you get in a car you put your life in the driver's hands, but this takes it to a whole new level."

Serrano says she used the Lyft app on Sept. 5 to call a car to take her home, and Roe arrived to pick her up.

She had been out having fun downtown and it was late in the evening, Gilleon said.

When Serrano threw up in the car, Roe told her she'd have to pay a $200 cleaning fee but said he would take $100 cash instead, which she agreed to do, according to the complaint.

"Once they reached Serrano's home, Roe followed Serrano inside her home without Serrano's knowledge or consent," the complaint states. "Roe grabbed Serrano by the waist and began rubbing her hips and buttocks. Roe then asked Serrano to perform sexual favor [sic] on him and in exchange he would not collect the $100 cash for a cleaning fee. Serrano pushed Roe off of her and was able to get him to leave. Serrano reported Roe's actions to Lyft but does not know what actions, if any, Lyft has taken."

Gilleon said: "He was treating her like a prostitute.

"She says, 'Wait here,' and goes inside, finds the money, turns around, and boom! He's right behind her demanding sex."

Lyft's response to the incident was lackluster, Gilleon said.

"They're effectively saying, 'We don't care. Take it up with the driver. We just match people up,' like it's a dating service or something."

Police response was also underwhelming, he said.

Serrano says in the complaint that Lyft did only a cursory background check on Roe before hiring him and did not make him "participate in any safety training or education programs" before letting him drive.

Gilleon said most of the background checks Lyft does are electronic rather than seeking out criminal records or using fingerprint identification.

Though this laissez-faire approach to background checks endangers passenger safety, Lyft charges a $1.50 "trust and safety fee" to use its service, according to the complaint.

"They say, 'You can trust our drivers,' but nothing could be farther from the truth," Gilleon said.

A Lyft spokeswoman told Courthouse News: "We take all matters involving safety extremely seriously and were deeply concerned to hear about this incident. Upon receiving this report, we immediately deactivated the driver and reached out to law enforcement to offer assistance."

She added: "Lyft does run criminal background checks (where we check criminal records) before allowing a driver to be on boarded to the platform. The background check is run by a third party expert ... and includes a Social Security number trace, a county criminal record check, an enhanced nationwide criminal search, and a Department of Justice 50-state sex offender search. In addition to the criminal background check, all applicants undergo a driving record check, a 19-point vehicle inspection and an in-person screening session."

Serrano seeks punitive damages for sexual battery, civil rights violations, gender violence and negligence.

Another Lyft rider and the San Diego Consumers' Action Network filed a class action against Lyft in June, accusing it of unfair trade and fraudulent and deceptive trade. That lawsuit, in Superior Court, accuses Lyft of charging customers for its lackadaisical background checks.

The Consumers' Action Network claimed Lyft lets anyone 21 or older drive for it so long as they have auto insurance, which all drivers of self-owned vehicles must have in California.

Lyft began charging a $1 "trust and safety fee" in April 2014, and raised it to $1.50 that October, according to the complaint.

Since Lyft estimates that it will provide around 9 million rides each year, it would earn $13.5 million from those fees alone, according to that lawsuit.

Since the trust and safety fee is not used for comprehensive vehicle inspections or comprehensive driver safety classes, "Lyft is shifting its cost of doing business and regulatory compliance to consumers as a separate line item, then touting the fact it is only complying with the minimal level of basic regulatory requirements as a justification for charging this fee," the class action states.

The plaintiffs in that case seek class certification, restitution, and an injunction preventing Lyft from charging the fees.

They are represented by Alan Mansfield with the Consumer Law Group of California.

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