A Florida woman filed a lawsuit against Lyft this week alleging that her driver raped her twice in 2019 while she was intoxicated and impregnated her, resulting in a child that was confirmed to be biologically his. In her lawsuit, Tabatha Means says her driver, who isn’t named in the suit, made inappropriate comments to her throughout the ride and followed her into her home when they reached the destination. She alleges that he forced her to perform oral sex on him, then raped her again despite her pleas for him to stop. In the lawsuit, Means claims the driver told her, “It will be just fine and over before you know it.”
At some point during the alleged assault, Means’ suit says the driver also told her that “he had just had a sexual encounter with ‘a girl I picked up [in a Lyft ride] before you.’” The lawsuit also says that Means “didn’t scream out, for fear that he would hurt her further after raping her.” She says she didn’t report the assault to the police, fearing she wouldn’t be believed. At a Wednesday news conference, Means said she “took a ride thinking I was safe.”
According to the lawsuit, Means—who’s already a mother—began experiencing pregnancy symptoms about a month after the assault, learned she was pregnant, and confided in her sister. “The remainder of Plaintiff’s pregnancy was a nightmare, losing contact with family members and support,” the lawsuit says. Her pregnancy turned out to be high-risk, and she “endured three hemorrhage episodes before giving birth to her son” via emergency c-section at 33 weeks. The first hemorrhage episode resulted in Means being hospitalized and forced to take short-term disability leave from her job because she couldn’t work. Means’ young son was in the NICU for about a month after his premature birth.
Shortly after the delivery, Means sought an administrative order from Florida’s Child Support Services to retrieve a DNA sample from the Lyft driver who assaulted her. The sample confirmed him as her son’s biological father. “I’m still working to process this trauma, and at the same time I need to be a mom to my amazing children, including my youngest whose biological father was my Lyft driver–rapist,” Means said in a news release on Wednesday. “I love my kids so deeply—but there are a lot of mixed emotions when the biggest blessing in your life can also remind you of your darkest hour.”
Means is suing Lyft for compensation for the physical and emotional damage she’s endured as a result of the sexual violence her Lyft ride exposed her to. She’s also asking Lyft to establish heightened safety measures including more thorough background checks for drivers, job interviews, and improved monitoring of Lyft drivers and rides. She’s suing because “this will continue. It is obvious they don’t care,” she said at the news conference.
In response to Means’ suit, Lyft has denied responsibility by claiming their internal investigation found that her driver first gave her an on-platform ride to one destination, then gave her a second ride to her home that wasn’t booked through the app: “The alleged incident from 2019 did not take place on the Lyft platform while using the Lyft app, but rather involved a separate trip arranged between the individuals involved,” the company said in a statement. “Lyft has worked to design policies and features that protect both drivers and riders, and we are always working to make Lyft an even safer platform.”
“This incident absolutely involved a trip booked through the Lyft App, and Lyft’s attempt to deflect liability is a perfect example of its bad-faith handling of this crisis,” Means’ attorney, Rachel Abrams, said in a statement responding to Lyft.
In 2021, the company released a safety report that disclosed it had received over 4,100 reports of sexual assault from 2017 to 2019. In 2019, 14 women filed lawsuits against the company saying they were raped or sexually assaulted by their drivers. The women say they were largely ignored by Lyft, which told the Verge at the time that the company wasn’t responsible because the drivers in question had “passed the New York City TLC’s background check.” Then, in 2022, Lyft settled—not with the victims but with shareholders who lost money from the reputational damage the company incurred from the lawsuit.
Means’ lawsuit notes that Lyft “does not require non-harassment training, nor does it adequately investigate passenger complaints of sexually inappropriate behavior or serious sexual assaults.” The lawsuit even points to an alleged “chatroom of rideshare drivers… where they openly discuss and brag about the access that they have to ‘hot’ young women.” Lyft has a “history of hiring sexual predators who have assaulted Lyft passengers… who harbor a sexual motivation for driving young female passengers,” the suit claims, all while “Lyft does nothing to warn its female passengers about this very serious and real danger.”
The suit further suggests this alleged, endemic sexual violence on the app stems from labor issues at the company, pointing to its “high turnover rate among its drivers because they are not well paid.” Thus, “to maximize the number of drivers on the road, Lyft’s business model is designed to accept as many… drivers as possible.” The company consequently “prioritizes profits over passenger safety,” making “deliberate decisions to adopt inadequate initial screening procedures” and “inadequate safety monitoring.”
Alison Turkos, one of the women who sued Lyft in 2019, says she was kidnapped and gang-raped by her driver and a group of men in 2017. “A Lyft driver held a gun to my head while I begged for my life—that’s what they [Lyft] call a ‘safety concern,’” Turkos told Jezebel in 2022. “They minimize it because they want to move right past that, because [the details] don’t help with profit, return on investment.”
Full Story: Jezebel January 12 2024