Be aware of carpooling – especially when impaired

By Christopher Dolan and Vanessa Deniston

Recently I took a ride home after a holiday party I attended at The City. During the party I had several drinks and by the time I was ready to go I was not fit to drive myself. I called a carpooling vehicle to take me home. During the ride the driver asked me several personal questions that made me uncomfortable including what kind of guy I was attracted to and if I had roommates or lived alone. When I first approached the car, the driver even encouraged me to sit in the front seat next to him, which I found strange. Fortunately, I wasn’t so drunk that I couldn’t perceive these red flags. I ended up calling my friend, who kept me company on the phone all the way home. Hypothetically, if the driver had stopped and tried to attack me, what legal recourse would I have and against whom?

– Emily, Bay Area

We’re so glad you made it home safe and sound, Emily. We hear this type of story frequently. It’s a lot more common than you might think. Ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft may offer a safer alternative to drunken revelers than getting behind the wheel while intoxicated, but all passengers should always exercise caution, especially women who drive alone. While most rideshare companies subject their drivers to criminal background checks, the system is not foolproof, as evidenced by the more than 4,000 sexual assault cases reported to Lyft between 2017 and 2019, and around of 6,000 reported to Uber within a similar timeframe. Framework.

The vast majority of carpool assault cases in California involve drunk female passengers traveling alone with a male driver. Indeed, in such a circumstance, the probability of an assault increases considerably. A drunk passenger will not be as alert as she could be if she is sober and misses the red flags. She is more likely to engage in seemingly friendly banter with the driver and divulge personal details that she might not otherwise be able to give.

She is also unlikely to know where she is and may not notice if the driver has deviated from the designated route to her final destination. If the driver makes advances to her, she is unable to give consent and may have impaired memory of what happened and when. She is also likely to have difficulty providing an accurate description of her attacker. It is important that all women and solo passengers traveling in a carpooling vehicle be aware of the common disturbing signs.

To answer your question directly, Emily, if you are assaulted by a ride-sharing driver, you are likely to have claims against both the driver and the rideshare company the driver has contracted with. In some isolated cases, you may also have a claim against third parties, if that third party requested the ride on your behalf and you are a drunk minor.

If you are assaulted while on a carpooling trip, or if you believe you have been assaulted, you must immediately report it to the police and the ridesharing company. Take immediate action to keep all receipts for your trip and take screenshots of any information in the app that can identify the date and time of the trip, driver identity, license plate number the driver’s route and the route taken by the driver to your final destination. This information will drastically reduce the number of attackers and make it easier for the police and the ridesharing company to identify them. Keep all the clothes you were wearing on the date of the assault and go to the emergency room to have a rape kit assessed.

To the extent possible, the key objective is to avoid such circumstances altogether. There are several steps you can take to seriously thwart or deter opportunistic predators in such circumstances, and you have used some of them. Above all, trust your instincts.

If the driver’s behavior seems suspicious or inappropriate, do not get in the car. Just call another route. If the driver exhibits disturbing behavior during the journey, cease all further engagement with the driver and involve a third party. Call a friend to keep you company on the phone on the way home, or text someone you have regular contact with to let them know about your whereabouts, when you should be home, and what behaviors you are in. you perceive as disturbing.

If the driver offers you food or drink after showing disturbing behavior, politely decline. Many ridesharing apps have a built-in section in their apps where you can report safety concerns. Understand that this is not and should not replace calling 911. If the driver inadvertently cancels the trip and stops in an unknown area, immediately call the police.

If you think you have been assaulted, report it to the police immediately and contact a lawyer to find out about your rights. Your action could well prevent further attacks if the perpetrator is identified and suspended from the carpooling platform.

Christopher B. Dolan is the owner of the Dolan law firm, PC. Vanessa Deniston is a Senior Partner in our Oakland office. We serve clients throughout the San Francisco Bay Area and California from our offices in San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles. Email questions and topics for future articles to: help@dolanlawfirm.com. Every situation is different, and this column does not constitute legal advice. We recommend that you consult an experienced litigator to fully understand your rights.

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