Uber Technologies Inc. beat back a lawsuit by a woman who claims she was lured into a sexual assault because she mistook an Uber windshield decal on a suspended driver’s car as a symbol of a safe ride.
The judge concluded that the driver, who is facing criminal charges that could send him to prison for life, wasn’t acting within the scope of his employment when he allegedly drove to a secluded location and raped the woman he’d picked up at a San Francisco Bay area shopping mall in 2018.
But U.S. Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley suggested that Uber is opening itself to trouble if it allows its decals to remain on vehicles belonging to drivers it knows to be dangerous.
If there was an “intentional failure to retrieve” the Uber decal from the driver — who had been suspended for allegedly harassing a female passenger before the alleged rape — that “could rise to a level of ‘extreme indifference’ necessary to support an award of punitive damages,” she wrote.
The judge rejected Uber’s argument that the assault resulted from “a chance encounter with a predator.” Instead, the passenger made a plausible argument that the driver was acting as an agent of Uber, Corley wrote.
Corley said the passenger can revise her complaint and refile it.
“Sexual assault is a horrible crime and our thoughts continue to be with the victim,” Uber said in an email.
A lawyer for the passenger said the ruling was disappointing, “but not a total loss” because the judge indicated a negligence claim can be pursued.
“We are going to amend the complaint and proceed with the case,” said Matthew Davis.
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