Passenger sues Uber over alleged sexual assault

By Carmel DeAmicis , written on March 24, 2014

From The News Desk

Over the weekend the Courthouse News Service reported that a Chicago Uber passenger is suing the company. The filing details an alleged sexual assault.

Passenger Vy Ho says her Uber driver, named in the suit as Jigneshkumar Patel, drove her down side streets, feigning ignorance of the city's geography until she agreed to sit in the front to give him directions. At that point he asked her to dinner and said he wanted to have sex with her.

According to the complaint, when she refused his advances, the driver locked the car door and groped her breast, legs, and groin. Eventually Ho threatened to call the police and he let her out. 

Ho is suing Uber under common complaint liability and the driver for "negligence, willful and wanton misconduct, battery, emotional distress, and false imprisonment."

Pandodaily contacted Ho's lawyer for comment (~5 hours before publication) but has not yet heard back.

When reached by PandoDaily, Uber confirmed the incident and said, "Immediately upon hearing from this rider, we deactivated the driver account involved, as we do for any complaint of this nature.  The safety of riders and drivers comes first and we will work with law enforcement in every way we can to help any investigative efforts." The company didn't specifically mention the lawsuit.

That's a stock-and-barrel response for Uber, almost word-for-word the same as their response to every other alleged Uber assault that's been made public. That said, in this case the company didn't try to deny that the victim's assault happened, as they've done with a couple past assault cases.

Uber has faced its share of driver-passenger conflicts, including a passenger claiming she was choked by a driver, to another claiming rape, to a third claiming his driver spit on him, and a fourth who said his driver hit him. These cases are -- unfortunately -- to be expected as Uber continues to grow, just as there are frequent complaints about traditional taxi companies.

What will distinguish Uber from its traditional rivals is how the company responds to such incidents, and what steps it takes to ensure -- to the best of the company's ability -- they don't happen again.

As we've written, in recent weeks the company has taken steps to respond in a more mature, transparent manner, making efforts to put its customers safety over protecting its own hide. It has rolled out stronger insurance coverage and expanded its background checks so that its doing county level records searches in addition to national searches. It's employing a service that supposedly sends individuals in person to pull court records  when they aren't available online.

This is the type of check that will help Uber successfully meet its "zero tolerance" background check policy and keep drivers with criminal histories off the roads, a problem Uber had before expanding these checks. The company still isn't doing Live Scans -- the highest quality of background check, which most taxi companies in California are required by law to do. As a result, it may still find drivers with spotty histories slipping through the system.

When asked whether the driver who allegedly groped Ho had passed Uber's new, expanded background checks the company said he had. We don't know whether the driver had a prior criminal record that Uber's background check missed because unfortunately, Cook County's court system is one of the ones that requires criminal records to be requested in person. We'll continue to follow that line of inquiry and will update this post if we learn more.