More rape victims join class action suit against Lyft in SLO court

Jason Lamont Fenwick

Two alleged rape victims have joined a Nipomo woman as plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit filed in San Luis Obispo Superior Court against the ridesharing company Lyft.

San Luis Obispo attorney Jim McKiernan initially filed the lawsuit in January 2019 on behalf of a Nipomo woman whom a Lyft driver allegedly raped after bringing her home last November following a night of drinking. McKiernan refiled the lawsuit on Wednesday in San Luis Obispo Superior Court.

The two additional plaintiffs who joined the class action complaint were sexually assaulted by Lyft drivers in Los Angeles and San Diego counties, according to the suit. Both of the new plaintiffs were using Lyft’s “tipsy taxi” service for rides home when they were allegedly sexually assaulted by their drivers. 

McKiernan’s class action suit argues crimes involving Lyft drivers are common because of the company’s inadequate screening process and negligent supervision. 

The suit details the incident in which a Lyft driver allegedly raped the Nipomo woman.

“After being dropped off at Jane Doe’s home around midnight by a Lyft driver, Jane Doe woke up the next morning in her bed bruised, naked and bleeding from her intimate private parts,” the lawsuit states. “The entire assault by the Lyft driver was captured on a home surveillance system, amounting to approximately 30 minutes.”

On Nov. 4, the Nipomo woman was intoxicated when she stepped into a Lyft vehicle driven by Lompoc man Jason Fenwick, 52. She had blacked out by the time they arrived at her home, where she was escorted inside by Fenwick.

Fenwick placed her in bed and then wandered around the house, snooping and checking for other occupants and closing curtains. He was oblivious to the home surveillance system that was recording his very action, according to the lawsuit.

The Lyft driver proceeded to “fondle, paw, kiss, molest and disrobe” the woman. Eventually he removed her underwear and performed oral sex and penetrated her, according to the lawsuit. 

During the sexual assault, Fenwick took several breaks to surveil the inside of the home. He also took several photos of himself with the unconscious woman.

After the assault, Fenwick grabbed the woman’s phone and used it to leave himself a $20 tip for the Lyft ride, the lawsuit states.

On Nov. 8, SLO County sheriff’s deputies arrested Fenwick on charges of oral copulation with an intoxicated victim, sexual penetration with a foreign object, using a device to see through clothing and burglary. Fenwick remains in jail with his bail set at $500,000.

According to the suit, Lyft has high driver turnover and rushes to fill driving positions. Lyft’s high demand for drivers and inadequate background checks result in the hiring of dangerous drivers and drivers with criminal records.

McKiernan has suggested that Lyft could monitor its drivers through an app currently used by customers to track drivers in order to monitor the amount of time drivers spend at the homes of their riders. Lyft employees could then call both the client and the driver to determine a reason for the delay in leaving the drop off point, McKiernan said.

The plaintiffs are suing for unspecified damages, as well as reimbursement for legal fees. Likewise, the plaintiffs are seeking the imposition of fines and changes to Lyft policies.

A recent California Supreme Court case set new standards for determining whether workers are employees of a company or independent contractors. The new standards make it much for difficult for companies to claim workers are independent contractors, thus making Lyft liable for its drivers’ actions, according to the lawsuit.

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One Comment about “More rape victims join class action suit against Lyft in SLO court”

  1. bonnie.t says:

    “Two alleged rape victims have joined a Nipomo woman as plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit filed in San Luis Obispo Superior Court against the ridesharing company Lyft.”

    Speaking as an attorney, I’m assuming Jim McKiernan lacks any prior experience with class-action suits. Even if Lyft *was* reasonably culpable for these heinous acts (and as explained below, I see no valid argument to this effect), there’s no realistic way to have a class of three plaintiffs certified (and all putative class actions – which btw is the correct descriptor for this case – have to be classified as such by a judge before they can proceed, and most have literal thousands of plaintiffs involved).

    “McKiernan’s class action suit argues crimes involving Lyft drivers are common because of the company’s inadequate screening process and negligent supervision.”

    I’m sorry, but both of these assertions are false. Crimes involving ride-hail drivers aren’t common, nor is Lyft’s pre-employment driver screening process “inadequate.” Not only does the company check every criminal database in every U.S. *county* (along with state- and federal-level checks), it also recently began re-running its criminal background checks on a *daily* basis. ANY prior history of sexual assault is an automatic disqualifier for employment, as are all serious felonies and acts of violence.

    “According to the suit, Lyft has high driver turnover and rushes to fill driving positions. Lyft’s high demand for drivers and inadequate background checks result in the hiring of dangerous drivers and drivers with criminal records.”

    While Lyft does have high driver turnover, the suggestion that it hires drivers with criminal records as a result is not only false; it’s an accusation that borders on defamation.

    “McKiernan has suggested that Lyft could monitor its drivers through an app currently used by customers to track drivers in order to monitor the amount of time drivers spend at the homes of their riders. Lyft employees could then call both the client and the driver to determine a reason for the delay in leaving the drop off point, McKiernan said.”

    This is a mere hypothetical, and it ignores the reality that it would most likely be wholly impractical for Lyft to implement this type of functionality throughout its network. To date, Lyft has provided well in excess of a *billion* rides (within North America alone), and only a minute fraction of them (far fewer than one in a million) have resulted in any sort of crime, contrary to McKiernan’s claim that such crimes are “common.”

    It also ignores the basic reality that ride-hail drivers turn off their apps every time they’ve decided to stop working for the day, or that the assailant in this case almost certainly did so himself prior to the alleged assault. How, then, could Lyft either monitor its drivers’ actions in this regard or contact them if they can see that a given driver is spending an undue amount of time at a passenger’s drop-off point?

    “A recent California Supreme Court case set new standards for determining whether workers are employees of a company or independent contractors. The new standards make it much for difficult for companies to claim workers are independent contractors, thus making Lyft liable for its drivers’ actions, according to the lawsuit.”

    It has yet to be established as a matter of law whether ride-hail drivers should be reclassified as employees pursuant to the California Supreme Court case in question (Dynamex), but even assuming arguendo that this is the case, it still doesn’t automatically render Lyft vicariously liable for its drivers’ actions. Unless the company acted negligently or had any prior reason to assume its driver posed a criminal threat to others, its liability (in whole or part) isn’t at all a given.

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