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Lawsuit: Uber didn't do enough to warn women about series of rapes by fake Uber drivers

Posted at 6:57 AM, Apr 09, 2019

Nine people were sexually assaulted by "fake Uber drivers" between September 2016 and February 2018 in Los Angeles, a new lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit is being brought by three of the individuals, all listed as Jane Does, who claim they were raped by individuals who posed as Uber drivers to pick up passengers. It was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on Friday.

The Jane Does are accusing Uber of negligence, arguing the company failed to warn them and other customers about fake drivers targeting women who were drinking in the area, despite being allegedly warned by law enforcement, according to the complaint.

The suit comes more than a week after University of South Carolina student Samantha Josephson was kidnapped and killed when she got into a vehicle she mistakenly thought was the Uber she ordered.

According to the complaint, law enforcement warned Uber on at least five occasions of assaults by fake Uber drivers within a section of Los Angeles where several popular nightclubs are located. The lawsuit claims the warnings came from the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, and took place before the first Jane Doe was allegedly raped on June 18, 2017.

The LAPD declined to comment to CNN Business, and the LASD could not be reached for comment. F. Edie Mermelstein, who is representing the plaintiffs, also declined to comment.

Uber told CNN Business it had not yet seen a copy of the lawsuit and so could not comment on it specifically, but an Uber spokesperson said in a statement, "We have been working with local law enforcement, including the LAPD, to educate the public about how to avoid fake rideshare drivers for several years. In 2017, we launched a national campaign to remind riders to make sure they get in the right car by checking the information, like the license plate and car make and model, shown in the app. These important reminders have been part of our safety tips, and our law enforcement team regularly discusses this issue with agencies across the country."

The lawsuit claims Uber has "egregiously chosen to hide and minimize" its safety problems, which often concern "young, intoxicated female passengers, the very demographic targeted by Uber's safety marketing campaigns."

The new lawsuit alleges that Uber makes it easy for sexual predators to obtain "print at home" Uber labels to deceive passengers. Uber offers a printable version of the Uber logo for drivers who want to print one themselves and place it in their window — no login is required to download the file.

The lawsuit also claims the company has not adequately warned passengers of the dangers of fake Uber drivers, including the recent murder of Josephson in South Carolina.

In the aftermath of Josephson's death, there's been a flurry of attention to safety features built into the Uber app that customers can rely on to double-check the name, pictures and license plates of vehicles before they get in.

These measures are inadequate, the Jane Does allege in the lawsuit. "Uber Defendants fail to take into consideration that the customer they market to are typically inebriated causing enhanced difficulty in using this 'matching system,'" the suit reads. The company could do more to help inebriated passengers verify who their drivers are, the lawsuit alleges.

Uber, which is expected to go public later this year, has "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 lawsuit says.

An April 2018 investigation found 103 Uber drivers in the US who were accused of sexually assaulting or abusing their passengers in the four years prior. The analysis was the result of an in-depth review of police reports, federal court records and county court databases for 20 major US cities.

For more than a year, CNN has been pushing Uber to reveal its data on allegations of sexual abuse and assault on its platform. Uber, which vowed to release a safety transparency report following the CNN investigation, has said the numbers will not be ready until sometime in 2019.

The company announced increased safety measures including a partnership with RapidSOS. It added an emergency button in the Uber app that sends a rider's location and relevant information to a police agency when pressed. Uber also revamped its background check policy, and now conducts annual checks on drivers. Following CNN's investigation, Uber announced it would do away with a policy that previously forced individuals with sexual assault complaints into arbitration and made them sign non-disclosure agreements.