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She says she was raped by a Lyft driver and had a child. Now she’s suing

<i>John General/Deborah Brunswick/CNN</i><br/>
John General/Deborah Brunswick/CNN

By Clare Duffy and Jennifer Korn, CNN. Video by John General and Deborah Brunswick.

Orlando, Florida (CNN) — A Florida woman sued Lyft earlier this month, alleging that she was raped by her Lyft driver in 2019 and that the assault resulted in the birth of her third child. The suit is the latest in a string of sexual assault allegations involving the company.

Lyft has pushed back on the allegations in the lawsuit, telling CNN in a statement that the alleged assault took place during an “off-app” ride hours after an official Lyft ride with the same driver. The company also said it only became aware of the alleged incident years after it took place.

Plaintiff Tabatha Means stated that what she had hoped would be a short ride back to where she was staying after a night out quickly became uncomfortable when the driver asked her to sit in the front seat, and then began complimenting and inappropriately touching her, according to the complaint filed January 10 in California Northern District Court.

When they arrived at her destination, the driver allegedly insisted on helping her inside, “purportedly due to her intoxication,” and despite her protests. Once inside, he assaulted her repeatedly, the complaint states.

Means’ lawsuit is just the latest legal action against a rideshare company over alleged sexual assault or misconduct. Lyftlike its competitor Uber — has faced dozens of lawsuits over the issue. While much of the civil litigation against the company remains ongoing, Lyft has denied the allegations against it. Separately, at least a handful of Lyft drivers accused of sexual assault have been convicted in criminal cases.

The suit also comes as some states have sought to implement tighter safety restrictions for rideshare companies, as well as increased protections for the companies’ drivers. Illinois lawmakers last year proposed a bill that would hold Uber and Lyft to a higher safety standard, which the companies opposed.

Lyft has repeatedly said that its service is safe, noting that such attacks are extremely rare and pointing to increased safety measures it has introduced in recent years, such as the ability to “share” a ride so a friend can track its progress, and an emergency alert feature in partnership with security company ADT.

The company also says it has an “around-the-clock” safety team and an automated safety check-in feature, where the app will send a notification asking if a rider and driver are okay if a ride goes off-route, stops for an unusual amount of time, or is canceled after pick-up.

“Safety is fundamental to Lyft and the behavior described has no place in our society,” Lyft said in a statement in response to Means’ lawsuit. Lyft has not yet formally responded to the lawsuit in court.

“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. 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,” the company said.

Lyft also noted that more than 99% of rides on the platform occur without any safety report.

Means and her lawyer dispute Lyft’s characterization of the assault as happening outside of an app-initiated ride.

Means alleges that she became pregnant from the alleged assault and, after a difficult pregnancy, gave birth to her son at just 33 weeks of gestation, the complaint states. Genetic testing later confirmed with “99.9999999998%” certainty that the Lyft driver is the child’s father, according to the complaint.

“Every day is a battle,” Means told CNN in an interview Friday. “I cannot imagine a day of my life without that little boy that was a surprise and not expected, but he is everything to me … But every day is still hard.”

Means says she now suffers mental health and financial issues because of the alleged rape and subsequent pregnancy, the complaint states.

The alleged assault

Means and Lyft have different versions of the events they say took place on that night in April 2019.

Lyft said an internal investigation found that the driver gave Means an on-platform ride to her original destination earlier in the night and that a separate ride was later arranged with the same driver off-platform to take Means back from the bar, after which the alleged assault took place.

The company claims that hours passed between that original Lyft ride and when the alleged assault occurred. Lyft declined to further detail the process of its investigation to CNN, citing the pending litigation.

Lyft has also said Means’ accused rapist has not driven for the platform for several years, although it declined to offer additional specifics about exactly when or why he stopped.

The driver was not named in the lawsuit or by the company. It’s not clear whether the driver had previously been the subject of any legal action or complaints on the app.

But Means said she saw that driver only once that night — on a Lyft ride from a bar back to where she was staying. The ride was ordered by her ex-husband, who she’d been out with that night while her kids were home with a nanny and who left after ordering her ride, according to Means.

As she left the bar, “a car arrived with a Lyft light turned on and visible. The Lyft driver rolled down the passenger side window, and Plaintiff confirmed the Lyft driver was there for her,” the complaint states.

Means told CNN: “I want to tell everyone … that I did not want it. I had never met that man before in my life.”

A Lyft receipt from the ride with the accused rapist provided by Means’ attorney shows an 11-minute ride shortly after midnight from a residential area to a street lined with restaurants and bars. The attorney said the receipt does not reflect the full ride and that she believes the driver inappropriately “ended” the ride on the app shortly after Means got in the car at the bar, something Means would not have known at the time because she didn’t order the ride herself.

“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,” Rachel Abrams, a partner at law firm Peiffer Wolf who is representing Means, said in a statement. “There is no dispute Tabatha’s Lyft driver repeatedly raped her resulting in pregnancy and the birth of her son.”

Abrams said in a press conference announcing the suit last week that “the facts of the case will come through the litigation and through discovery.”

Lyft has also noted that Means did not report the alleged assault to police, nor to the company, at the time.

Means told CNN that she feared at the time that she wouldn’t be believed. (In the US, two out of three rapes are not reported to police, often because victims fear retaliation or not being believed, according to anti-sexual assault organization RAINN.)

“All of these things are in my head, I have all these reasons no one will believe me … I was drunk,” Means said, adding that the next morning she also had to get home to her children. “It makes sense now, I should have gone to the hospital and maybe gotten a rape kit.”

It wasn’t until she was approaching her son’s first birthday that Means said she realized, “something terrible happened to me … I’ve got to say something.”

A Google search for “Lyft assault” eventually led her to Abrams, whose firm has represented numerous women accusing the company of failing to protect them from being assaulted during rides. Means attempted to resolve her case with Lyft through mediation prior to filing the lawsuit, according to Abrams.

Means has not filed criminal or other charges against the driver. Abrams noted that given the time that has passed since the alleged assault took place, it could be harder to succeed in a criminal case than in the civil case against the company. After genetic testing indicated the driver was her child’s father, Means said she declined to seek child support because she did not want further interaction with him.

A history of concerns about rider safety

Following a May 2018 investigation by CNN into sexual assault and abuse incidents by rideshare drivers, Lyft and Uber both committed to releasing safety transparency reports detailing internal data on the most severe incidents on their platforms.

The two companies also announced at the time that they would no longer force customers with claims of sexual assault into arbitration.

In 2021, Lyft and Uber said they would share between the two companies the names of drivers and delivery people deactivated from their platforms over the most serious safety incidents, including sexual assaults.

Months later, Lyft released its transparency report, disclosing that it received a total of 4,158 reports of sexual assault on its platform in 2017, 2018, and 2019. The report noted that among the sexual assault reports it received, 360 were reports of rape, which accounted for about one in every 5 million rides.

Lyft in 2022 agreed to a $25 million settlement with shareholders over allegations that it failed to adequately disclose risks to its reputation and business related to safety issues, including reports of drivers assaulting passengers.

In addition to seeking unspecified financial damages, Means’ lawsuit urges Lyft to continue to expand its safety measures, including by enhancing its background check and driver hiring procedures.

Lyft says all applicants seeking to become new drivers are subject to driving incident screens, as well as criminal background checks conducted by third-party company Checkr, which include a Social Security number trace, a nationwide criminal search, federal and county court records searches and a US Justice Department sex offender registry search.

The company said it also conducts annual criminal background checks on all drivers and continuous driving record and criminal monitoring. Lyft’s continuous criminal record monitoring began in April 2019, the month of Means’ alleged rape.

In December 2019, Lyft also began requiring drivers to complete a community safety education program developed by RAINN.

The app also launched “Women+ Connect” last year, a feature that lets women and nonbinary drivers get matched to pick up more women and nonbinary riders.

But Means’ lawsuit encourages Lyft to go further, including by conducting screening interviews “either in person or through online platforms such as Skype or Zoom” and “biometric fingerprinting” as part of its hiring process.

“By failing to take reasonable steps to confront the problem of multiple rapes and sexual assaults of Lyft passengers by Lyft drivers, Lyft has acted in conscious disregard of the safety of its passengers, including Plaintiff, [and] has breached its duty of reasonable care,” the complaint states.

Means said she also wants other rideshare app users to know of the potential safety issues of having someone else order a ride for them, including not being able to easily access the app’s emergency alert feature.

“You see [the Lyft driver’s] light on, and they say your name, and you get in that car, and [you think] you’re going to be okay, and I trusted that,” Means said during last week’s press conference. “And I I’m very upset with myself for not opening my mouth sooner.”

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