In a lawsuit filed today in California, a woman alleges that her Lyft ride home from a Brooklyn bar became a nightmare as the driver kidnapped her at gunpoint and drove her far outside their intended route, across state lines into New Jersey, where she alleges she was gang-raped by the driver and at least two other men.
The suit, filed in the Superior Court of California for the County of San Francisco, alleges that the woman, Alison Turkos, endured “severe trauma” in the 2017 attack:
The LYFT application assigned the ride to Raggie (“LYFT DRIVER”), who kidnapped Alison at gunpoint and drove her across state lines to a park, where at least two men raped Alison [repeatedly] for twenty-two minutes. Alison remembers the men cheering and high fiving each other as they continued to rape her. Their attack was so brutal that the next day Alison experienced severe vaginal pain and bleeding. Her body was so exhausted from the attack and resulting trauma that Alison could not even leave her bed or raise her arms.
Due to the severe trauma, it took Alison some time to piece together the brutal reality of what had happened to her. When she looked at her Lyft account, she realized that what should have been a 3mile, 15minute ride, was in fact an 18 mile, 79 minute ride all the way to New Jersey and then back to Brooklyn. Alison reported this to Lyft wondering how this could have happened. A LYFT representative or an automated response apologized for the “inconvenience” of the trip and refunded only part of the ride.
Turkos went to the hospital two days later, where, according to the suit, a rape kit “identified evidence of semen from at least two men on the clothing she wore the night of the attack.” The complaint said the attack was reported to the New York Police Department and “eventually transferred” to the FBI, which is investigating it as a human trafficking case.
According to the complaint, which identifies the Lyft driver involved only as “Raggie,” the ride-sharing company allowed him to continue driving even after Turkos reported the incident—but under a different name. Meghan McCormick, Turkos’ attorney, told Splinter that lawyers “have not been able to confirm whether the driver is still driving for Lyft.”
“Unfortunately, the Lyft App does not allow one to confirm whether a driver is still driving and Lyft is not forthcoming with this information,” McCormick added.
Splinter reached out to Lyft to ask if the driver is still working for the company and for comment on a number of specific allegations contained the suit. The company did not respond with respect to the driver’s employment status, but emphasized in a statement that it has added numerous safety features in the last year.
“What this rider describes is awful, and something no one should have to endure,” Lyft spokeswoman Lauren Alexander said in a statement to Splinter. “The unfortunate fact remains that one in six women will face some form of sexual violence in their lives—behavior that’s unacceptable for our society and on our platform.” You can read the company’s full statement below.
Because the case is still under investigation, the complaint says, law enforcement requested certain information—like the exact date of the 2017 attack—not be made public, but the filing said Lyft’s legal team has been notified of the date. In a May 2018 Wall Street Journal story, Turkos, along with other women who reported being assaulted, described her frustration with the NYPD Special Victims Divisions’ progress on her case since she reported it, which the paper reported was in October 2017. (Maria Quinones, the detective assigned to her case, referred the Journal to an NYPD spokesman for comment. The spokesman declined to comment on her behalf.) The suit also alleges Lyft has refused to cooperate with law enforcement, including the FBI, on the case.
In addition to seeking damages, the lawsuit also levels sweeping allegations against Lyft’s business model for recruiting drivers, which the suit says comes at the cost of passengers’ safety, and charges that the company’s response to what the suit calls a “sexual predator crisis” has been “appallingly inadequate.” According to the complaint:
LYFT does not have a zero-tolerance policy for sexual misconduct and has allowed drivers who have been reported for misconduct to continue driving. LYFT does not require non-harassment training, nor does it adequately investigate or address passenger complaints of sexually inappropriate behavior or serious sexual assaults. Shockingly, a chatroom of rideshare drivers exists where they openly discuss and brag about the access that they have to “hot” young women. Notwithstanding LYFT’s history of hiring sexual predators who have assaulted LYFT passengers, and notwithstanding the obvious and open subculture of LYFT drivers who harbor a sexual motivation for driving young female passengers, LYFT does nothing to warn its female passengers about this very serious and real danger.
The complaint also calls for specific changes to the company’s safety protocols, including implementing fingerprint-based background checks as part of its process for screening drivers and a “monitoring system” to keep “vulnerable” passengers safe.
In a post announcing the lawsuit’s filing on Medium, Turkos wrote that, even after she reported the attack, Lyft still required her to pay the fare on her original ride—$12.81.
“To Lyft executives, I say: what happened to me is real. And if it’s so difficult to hear my story, just imagine what it’s been like to live through. I deserve better. Survivors deserve better,” she wrote.
The timing isn’t good for the Silicon Valley-based company. Earlier this month, 14 women filed another lawsuit against the company, arguing the app empowers abusers and doesn’t do enough to keep riders safe. The allegations in that suit range from a woman claiming that her driver said “I love you” after locking the doors, taking her phone, and ending the ride more than a mile from her house; and another who accuses her driver of smoking crack cocaine in the car, bragging about committing other assaults, and finally driving her to a beach to rape her—a five-hour ordeal. The lawsuit also claimed Lyft received nearly 100 sexual assault complaints between 2014 and 2016 in California alone. In response to a recent NPR story about some of the lawsuits, the company said that it is devoting “more resources in our continued effort to ensure our riders and drivers have the safest possible experience.” Lyft also recently announced that it is partnering with the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) and requiring drivers to complete a RAINN-developed training.
Here’s Lyft’s full statement to Splinter:
What this rider describes is awful, and something no one should have to endure. The unfortunate fact remains that one in six women will face some form of sexual violence in their lives — behavior that’s unacceptable for our society and on our platform. In this case, the driver passed the New York City TLC’s background check and was permitted to drive.
We constantly work to improve the platform, which is why we have invested in new features, protocols and policies to protect our riders and drivers. . This year alone we’ve launched 14 new safety features — including daily continuous background check monitoring, in-app emergency assistance, and mandatory feedback for any ride rated less than four stars.
You can read the full court filing below:
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