A 25-year-old Indian woman, raped by an Uber driver in New Delhi last month, has filed a lawsuit against the taxi service company in a US court arguing that it does not adequately screen its drivers and its “negligence and fraud” lead to her being sexually assaulted and humiliated.
The woman has not been named in the 36-page lawsuit filed in the California federal court against the San Francisco- based firm and has been identified only as ‘Jane Doe’.
She is seeking an unspecified amount of damages that should be determined at a jury trial and compensation for the “physical and monetary” harm and for harm to her “professional and personal reputations” the assault caused her.
She is also seeking a permanent injunction directing that Uber take all affirmative steps necessary to remedy the effects of the unlawful conduct alleged in the lawsuit and to “prevent repeated occurrences in the future.”
Following the filing of the lawsuit, the victim’s lawyer, prominent New York Attorney Douglas Wigdor said Uber’s focus on its “bottom line over the safety of its passengers has resulted in what can only be described as modern day electronic hitchhiking.”
“…We intend to hold Uber responsible for the significant physical and emotional harm it has caused to our client, while simultaneously seeking a court order mandating that Uber initiate certain safety precautions that they appear unwilling to do voluntarily,” he said.
Wigdor hoped that the lawsuit would bring about positive change that will ultimately protect people worldwide who are unaware of the “serious risks of entering into an Uber car.”
Jeanne Christensen, a partner at the Wigdor law firm, said Uber executives’ decisions to cut costs at the expense of customer safety forced the young woman to “pay the ultimate cost.”
“Her brutal rape by an Uber driver who was a known repeat sexual predator was a result of a global Uber policy that has far-reaching consequences. We intend to hold Uber accountable for violence that could easily have been avoided had even a minimal background check been conducted,” Christensen said.
Wigdor added that the lawsuit seeks to “slam the brakes” on Uber’s reckless worldwide expansion at the “unfortunate expense of basic customer safety.”
It demanded that Uber must implement necessary safety measures including opening dedicated 24/7 customer support centres in every city that it operates in, requiring all its drivers to install GPS tracking systems and tamper-proof video cameras and providing female drivers.
It said Uber’s “negligence, fraud and other unlawful actions” caused the woman’s sexual assault, which has “humiliated, degraded, violated and robbed” her of her dignity.
Uber must also perform thorough character checks on prospective drivers that go beyond mere criminal background checks to ensure that the victim’s “harrowing ordeal is never repeated”.
The lawsuit alleges that Uber’s claims of customer safety being its top priority have proven to be “false and hollow” as investigations into its safety measures reveal that the company routinely fails to have systems in place to adequately monitor and trace Uber trips.
Uber does not adequately screen its drivers, regularly employing drivers with known criminal histories, “risking the safety of its customers,” it added.
Seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, Wigdor said in the lawsuit that Uber should be held accountable “so that no person will ever have to undergo the traumatic and harrowing, life-changing ordeal” that his client had to endure.
The lawsuit added that had Uber done a basic background check on its driver Shiv Kumar Yadav, it would have found that Yadav had provided fraudulent documents and had a “known propensity” for “violent and deviant conduct, including numerous arrests for rape and assault.”
Wigdor said in the lawsuit it is “troubling to say the least” that a tragic event like the sexual assault on his client had to occur for Uber to finally acknowledge its “systemic deficiencies with respect to customer safety.”
The lawsuit describes in detail the night of December 5, 2014 when the young woman was “raped and sodomised” by Yadav.
It said Yadav repeatedly threatened to kill her and warned that if she yelled or tried to escape, “he would insert a metal rod inside her,” alluding to the horrific December 2012 gang rape of a young student in New Delhi.
The lawsuit said Uber failed to provide any explanation as to why no?alarms or concerns were raised when its cab took a lengthy detour to a secluded area off the route Yadav was supposed to take.
As soon as the victim got home, she reported the rape to the police and even sent an email to Uber, which is yet to respond to the “distressing” email.
Wigdor also lists several other lapses by Uber, including accepting Yadav’s false character certificate, failing to have a security badge in the cab, negligent retention of Yadav and failure to meet basic safety standards regarding its Indian drivers.
Wigdor lashed out at Uber for directly emailing his client informing her that the company is restarting operations in the national capital just weeks after the rape and while the criminal case was underway in Delhi, “audaciously” offering her a “flat 25 per cent discount.”