A few hours on the streets of any city will tell you that the two big companies leading the way in the new model for transportation services are Uber and Lyft. But these rideshare giants have implemented business practices that many view as illegal, a number of drivers have been charged with sexually assaulting passengers, and accidents involving rideshare vehicles have spiked along with the popularity of these services. As a result, Uber and Lyft frequently find themselves at the center of a variety of legal proceedings, including class action lawsuits like those we'll discuss in this article. (Get details on the latest developments related to passenger lawsuits against Uber and Lyft.)
Generally speaking, personal injury cases do not end up with class action status. For a class action case to proceed, there must be a range of similar circumstances among the plaintiffs. For example, a consumer bought a widget based on claims on the widget’s packaging, and now wants a refund. Almost every potential plaintiff who wants their money back because of the misleading packaging will rely on the same legal theories and facts.
In contrast, personal injury cases, such as those stemming from a sexual assault or a car accident, will have many different underlying facts among the plaintiffs. With a sexual assault, different facts can include who committed the assault, how the assault occurred, damages suffered by the plaintiff, and how the rideshare company failed to protect the passenger. (Learn more about rideshare company liability for sexual assault.)
With a car accident, each case will be somewhat unique in that there will be different claimed injuries, a different cause for the accident, or different things Lyft or Uber should have done differently to prevent the accident. For instance, one plaintiff might say Uber needed to do a more thorough driver history background check, while another plaintiff believes Lyft should have inspected each driver's vehicle. (Learn more about Lyft and Uber liability for car accident injuries.)
This doesn’t mean a class action lawsuit for personal injuries is impossible ("mass tort" cases may end up as a class action, for example). It does mean it's difficult for personal injury plaintiffs to have a judge certify the class, or agree that the litigation should proceed as a class as opposed to via individual cases.
One such proposed rideshare-related class action lawsuit is Jane Roe, et al. v. Lyft, Inc., case number CGC-19-578975 in the Superior Court of California, County of San Francisco. In the complaint, 14 plaintiffs request a class action lawsuit for compensation stemming from their alleged sexual assault. This case is currently in the very early stages and may coordinate with several other sexual assault cases currently ongoing in California state court.
Most of the class actions filed against Uber or Lyft relate to allegations of illegal business practices, including deceptive advertising, workplace discrimination, improper worker classification, and breach of contract. Let's look at some of the more notable recent cases.
O’Connor, et al. v. Uber Technologies, Inc., Case No. 3:13-cv-03826-EMC
This case involved hundreds of thousands of drivers who claimed that Uber incorrectly classified them as independent contractors instead of employees. The parties reached a tentative $100 million settlement in 2016, but the judge rejected the agreement, saying it wasn’t enough for the drivers.
In 2019, the case settled for only $20 million. That’s because the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the validity of arbitration clauses in employment contracts. This meant that the contracts the drivers agreed to in order to start driving for Uber barred most of them from bringing a class action lawsuit. The number of class plaintiffs dropped from about 385,000 to less than 14,000.
Lopez and Medina v. Uber Technologies, Inc., Case No. 4:17-cv-06255 (YGR)
In 2017, the two named plaintiffs brought this class action lawsuit on behalf of themselves and more than 400 female and minority Uber employees. The plaintiffs alleged that Uber engaged in workplace discrimination based on an employee’s race, gender, or nationality. In 2018, the case settled for $10 million.
Philliben and McKnight v. Uber Technologies, Inc. et al., Case No. 3:14-cv-05615
Filed by two plaintiffs in Michigan and California in 2014, this class action involved assertions that Uber misled passengers about the extent of its passenger safety measures and the $1 "Safe Rides Fee." The case settled in 2016 for $28.5 million.
Islam v. Lyft, Inc., Case No. 1:20-cv-03004
This proposed class action lawsuit filed earlier this year comes from Lyft drivers who claim that Lyft improperly forced them out of the Lyft app to restrict the number of drivers in a particular area. Specifically, New York City passed new laws requiring rideshare drivers to receive minimum pay. But due to an oversaturation of the rideshare market in New York City, it was very difficult for a Lyft driver to make enough money to reach this legally mandated amount. To comply with this new law, Lyft allegedly stopped some of its less busy drivers from using the app, effectively stopping them from driving for Lyft. This proposed class action lawsuit contends that this action represents a breach of contract by Lyft. This case is still in the initial stages of litigation.
Legal issues surrounding cases against rideshare companies are constantly evolving. If you've been injured while riding as a passenger in an Uber or Lyft vehicle, get tips on finding the right lawyer for your rideshare passenger injury case.