Lawsuits

‘Trauma That Still Haunts Me’: Phoenix Woman Sues Lyft Over Sexual Assault

A Phoenix woman sued Lyft on August 31 and accused the rideshare company of negligence.
A Phoenix woman sued Lyft on August 31 and accused the rideshare company of negligence. Minnesota Public Works/CC by 2.0
The fuschia glow of Katherine Rasta’s Lyft app was the last thing she saw that night before leaving a Phoenix bar.

On a balmy night in June 2021, the 28-year-old Rasta and her friends had enjoyed some of the city’s boisterous nightlife destinations. As she stood on a street corner in the wee hours of the morning, she sought a safe ride home.

But according to a new lawsuit filed on Wednesday in San Francisco, her ride was anything but safe.

Lyft, based in the Bay Area, faces lawsuits from Rasta and 16 other passengers and drivers who claim to be survivors of sexual assault or victims of physical assault that occurred while using Lyft.

The plaintiffs worked with Peiffer Wolf Carr Kane Conway & Wise, a New Orleans-based law firm, to file the lawsuits. In her complaint, Rasta accused Lyft of more than a dozen counts of negligence and claimed the company is responsible for allowing a sexual assault to occur. She is suing for an unspecified amount of money and policy changes.

Most of the other survivors and victims filed lawsuits and arbitration demands but wished to keep their stories private. The 16 additional plaintiffs include 12 passengers who were sexually assaulted in California, Ohio, Kentucky, Oregon, Virginia, Texas, and Wisconsin; one passenger who was physically assaulted in Michigan; and three drivers who were physically assaulted in Connecticut and Illinois.

In an interview with Phoenix New Times, a Lyft spokesperson denied the allegations in Rasta's lawsuit.


'Nothing Can Undo the Pain and Suffering'

Five minutes after Rasta stepped into the Lyft, the driver started making inappropriate comments and said he wanted to get a hotel room to smoke methamphetamine and have sex with her, she recalled during a virtual press conference on Wednesday.

Rasta claimed that the driver continued to make sexual advances throughout the entire ride. Upon reaching her Phoenix home, she alleged that the driver locked the doors, grabbed her cell phone out of her hand, and sexually assaulted her.

According to the lawsuit, the driver “reached into the back seat and grabbed plaintiff’s genitals under her shorts against her will.”

“When I got home, I ran to the bathroom and threw up because I was having a severe anxiety attack,” Rasta said. “I immediately got into the shower because I felt defiled.”

The driver also threatened her and said, “Don’t tell anyone. Remember, I know where you live and where your friend lives now," according to a statement from Rasta's attorneys.

Rasta said she was, and remains, terrified.

“I kept thinking about what he said,” she stated. “If I said anything, he would come find me. I changed my number, and I wanted to make sure he wouldn’t try to come find me.”

In the lawsuit, Rasta accused Lyft of hiring drivers without sufficient background checks. The lawsuit also demanded that the company revamp safety efforts with “more comprehensive” screenings and mandate dashboard cameras to continuously record in every vehicle.

Rasta and her lawyers asserted that Lyft has a “history of hiring sexual predators” and an “open subculture of Lyft drivers who harbor a sexual motivation for driving young female passengers.” They cited online forums where rideshare users brag about the access they have to "hot" young women.

Last year, Lyft released its Community Safety Report in an effort to be transparent about violence and sexual assault on the platform. Lyft reported 4,158 sexual assaults between 2017 and 2019. The report revealed a 65 percent increase in sexual assault in 2019.

“This is a nationwide crisis. It’s unconscionable that Lyft was aware of the ongoing problem for years and did virtually nothing,” said Adam Wolf, Rasta’s lead attorney. “Lyft spends massive amounts of money on woke marketing messages and lobbying, but it refuses to protect its drivers and passengers. In reality, the only thing Lyft is concerned about protecting is its own profit margins.”

Rasta said that when she contacted Lyft and reported the assault, “They didn’t care about what happened to me.” She was made to pay for the ride, and Lyft didn’t follow up with her about her complaint. Rasta did not report the alleged attack to local police, Max Karlin, a spokesperson for Peiffer Wolf Carr Kane Conway & Wise, told New Times.

Rasta said she hope the lawsuit would help improve Lyft's response to victims of sexual assault.

“Lyft has a responsibility to protect its passengers and drivers. Its refusal to do so has resulted in acts of violence that left our clients with disabilities, permanent deformities, and lifelong trauma,” said Tracey Cowan, another attorney representing Rasta. “Nothing can undo the pain and suffering they endured, but it’s their hope that by sharing their stories, they can force Lyft to protect its users.”

In its Community Safety Report, Lyft noted that it had information regarding non-fatal instances of physical violence associated with the use of the platform, yet it failed to quantify and describe the nature of these attacks. Instead, it merely stated that 10 of those attacks resulted in death.

Lyft also said in the report that more than 99 percent of rides occur without any safety grievances.

“We’re committed to helping keep drivers and riders safe,” Lyft spokesperson Arturo Burciaga told New Times. “While safety incidents on our platform are incredibly rare, we realize that even one is too many. Our goal is to make every Lyft ride as safe as possible, and we will continue to take action and invest in technology, policies, and partnerships to do so.”

Burciaga added that “it is our understanding that a number of false and/or misleading claims may have been made by [Rasta’s] attorneys.”

Rasta wants Lyft to step up safety measures in Phoenix and beyond.

“I hope I can use this horrific experience to make Lyft realize anything can happen during a Lyft ride,” Rasta said. “Sexual abuse in Lyft rides needs to stop. We all deserve a safe ride experience. Nobody should go through the trauma that still haunts me today.”
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Elias Weiss is a staff writer at the Phoenix New Times. A native of Charlotte, North Carolina, he reported first for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and was editor of the Chatham Star-Tribune in Southern Virginia, where he covered politics and law. In 2020, the Virginia Press Association awarded him first place in the categories of Government Writing and Breaking News Writing for non-daily newspapers statewide.
Contact: Elias Weiss