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Lyft has been hit with more driver rape, sexual assault allegations

Twenty more people are suing Lyft over alleged sexual assault, sexual misconduct or rape by drivers while using its service.

The plaintiffs, who include 19 women and the husband of one of the women, are accusing Lyft of failing to take adequate steps to protect riders, despite repeated claims that safety is a top priority. The lawsuit comes on the heels of a similar lawsuit filed by the same law firm in September on behalf of 14 anonymous women, in addition to numerous other individual suits that have been filed in recent months.

The new allegations from a combination of anonymous women and six named women span the country. The lawsuit, which was filed in San Francisco, alleges most incidents occurred this year, with a handful taking place after the previous suit’s filing and Lyft’s subsequent update on safety features one week later, which included promises for future initiatives such as creating a mandatory safety exercise for driver applicants.

Many of the alleged incidents happened when using Lyft’s service after a night of drinking, a pattern CNN has previously reported on. But not all. In one case, the lawsuit states, a women was taking a Lyft in Brooklyn to a job interview when she allegedly saw her driver looking at her in the rear-view mirror and then noticed him masturbating.

“What these women describe is something no one should ever have to endure. Everyone deserves the ability to move about the world safely, yet women still face disproportionate risks,” Lyft spokesperson Alexandra LaManna said in a statement to CNN Business. “We recognize these risks, which is why we are relentless in our work to build safety into every aspect of our work.”

Some of the alleged incidents occurred after a crisis center or healthcare provider ordered a Lyft ride on the women’s behalf, according to the lawsuit. It is unclear if those institutions were partners of Lyft, which works with certain healthcare providers and touts itself as a healthcare transportation leader.

As with the lawsuit filed in September, the women allege that Lyft “chooses to stonewall” law enforcement investigating assaults and that it often fails to inform riders about the status of the drivers who have been accused of sexual assault or rape. While some of the women suing say they reported incidents to Lyft and never received answers about whether the driver in question continued to work for the company, in one instance, Lyft allegedly told a woman the driver who assaulted her was no longer driving for the company. The woman later spotted the same driver with another passenger, with a Lyft sign on his car, the most recent lawsuit claimed.

The women in both suits also allege that Lyft’s background checks are inadequate and that the company fails to protect passengers with sufficient safety features.

Attorney Michael Bomberger, whose firm Estey & Bomberger is bringing the suits, said Lyft’s safety updates to date have fallen short.

“They respond to what Uber does several months or even years later,” he told CNN Business. For instance, the company announced continuous driver background checks after Uber. It didn’t add enhanced identity verification checks until two years after Uber. Lyft announced in September that it has fully rolled out an in-app emergency button, a feature that’s been available in Uber since last year.

“This year, nearly one in five employees at Lyft have been dedicated to initiatives that strengthen the platform’s safety. In just the last few months, we’ve launched more than 15 new safety features,” added the Lyft spokesperson. “Our work on safety is never done, and we will continue to invest in new features, protocols, and policies to ensure Lyft is the safest form of transportation for our riders and drivers.”

Some of the women said they had to resort to their own instincts to try to fend off drivers. One of the women, who was heading to a medical appointment, said that after her driver got into the backseat and exposed his penis, she lied to him about being diagnosed as HIV positive “in an attempt to scare him,” according to the suit. “Her plan seemed to work. He climbed back into the front seat,” the suit states, although he “began masturbating in the front seat” as he drove her to the destination.

In another woman’s case, after she was allegedly raped, she said she reported to Lyft using its in-app “passenger help bot” feature. She received an automated email response stating someone would reach out once Lyft started the review process, according to the complaint. Two days later, her account was deactivated and while she received an initial voicemail and e-mail from a Lyft representative, her attempts to contact Lyft again went unanswered, the suit said.

While there is no publicly available data on the number of sexual assaults allegedly committed by Uber and Lyft drivers, a 2018 CNN investigation found that at least 103 Uber drivers and 18 Lyft drivers in the United States have been accused of sexually assaulting or abusing their passengers since 2014.

Two weeks after CNN’s investigation, Uber, followed by Lyft, announced it would do away with a policy that previously forced riders, drivers and employees with sexual assault complaints into arbitration and made them sign non-disclosure agreements. The companies both said they intend to publish safety transparency reports this year that will put numbers behind sexual assaults and other incidents that occur on its platform. Neither has done so yet.

Since that investigation, Lyft’s US operations have only grown and, at times, the company has benefited from Uber’s very public struggles with its own reputation. In reality, Lyft faces the same issues when it comes to passenger safety.

“People think this is never going to happen to them. Never in a million years did I think something like this would happen to me,” one of the women participating in the lawsuit told CNN Business. “By choosing to take a Lyft you are putting yourself in danger. Even in broad daylight, I will never, ever ever ever take a Lyft or an Uber again.”

CNN