Uber Lawsuits Over Drivers Sexual Harassment, Assault Cleared to Move Forward in MDL Without Stay

Judge rejected a request by the rideshare company to stay all Uber driver sexual harassment and assault lawsuits, allowing pretrial proceeding to continue while an appeals court weighs whether the claims should remain in a federal MDL

The U.S. District Judge presiding over all federal Uber lawsuits, each of which involves similar claims that drivers sexually harassed or assaulted passengers, has rejected a motion by the rideshare service to pause all pretrial proceedings while it challenges the recent decision to consolidate the cases as part of an MDL, or multidistrict litigation.

There are currently 191 lawsuits against Uber pending in the federal court system, each raising allegations that the rideshare app disregarded the safety of passengers by failing to take appropriate safety precautions and failing to conduct background checks to prevent sexual predators from working as drivers. However, it is ultimately expected that hundreds, if not thousands, of Uber lawsuits will be pursued in the coming years.

Although Uber implemented “Safe Ride Fees” in 2014, plaintiffs maintain that the company never used that money to actually make its passengers safer, providing only cursory background checks for drivers. The company also failed to provide surveillance cameras inside of cars, did not allow passengers to make requests regarding the gender of drivers, and failed to train drivers on issues of sexual assault and harassment, according to the lawsuits.

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A lack of passenger safety features and cursory background checks for drivers have resulted in an alarming number of rapes and sexual assaults by Uber drivers. Lawyers provide free consultations and claim evaluations.

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Given common questions of fact and law raised in complaints filed in various different federal courts, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) consolidated all Uber sexual assault cases in October, centralizing the litigation before U.S. District Judge Charles R. Breyer in the Northern District of California, as part of an MDL or multidistrict litigation.

However, a month later, Uber filed a petition asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to review the JPML’s decision, arguing that the claims should never have been consolidated as part of an MDL, because the lawsuits rely on individual injuries which occurred due to the actions of various different third-party Uber drivers.

Judge Rejects Motion to Stay Uber Lawsuits

After the Appeals Court agreed to hear the challenge, Uber filed a motion to stay the MDL proceedings on December 22, asking Judge Breyer to vacate all deadlines for at least 60 days, pending a decision for the Ninth Circuit on the Petition for a Writ of Mandamus, which seeks to force the U.S. JMPL to reverse its earlier decision and eliminate the Uber sexual assault MDL.

However, in a pretrial order (PDF) issued on February 9, Judge Breyer denied Uber’s request after the Court heard oral arguments at a hearing on February 2. While Uber’s request was only to stay the litigation for 60 days, Judge Breyer indicated that did not matter.

“Given the purpose of the requested stay, little would be gained by staying proceedings for a fixed amount of time. Sixty days from now, the Court of Appeals will either have acted on the petition, or it will not have acted on the petition,” Judge Breyer noted. “If it has not, the parties will return with identical arguments for and against a further stay, and the Court can foresee no reason why it would decide the matter differently at that point in time. Nothing will have changed.”

He indicated that if a stay had been granted, it would be indefinite until the Ninth Circuit’s decision on Uber’s petition. He also noted that, in such an instance, there was at least a “fair possibility” that plaintiffs would be negatively affected by a stay of the proceedings.

In addition, Judge Breyer argued that Uber would not be significantly inconvenienced and waste resources even if the centralization was overturned while pretrial proceedings continue.

“While Uber talks of the potential unnecessary expenditure of resources, much of the work the parties and the Court will do in the coming months could be used in individual actions—and in the collection of actions that will remain in this Court—even if Uber’s petition were granted,” the judge determined. “A stay is unwarranted.”

Unless the appeals court disbands the MDL proceedings, it is ultimately expected that the parties will work over the coming months to establish a framework for completing general discovery into issues that will impact all claims, and then select a small group of representative claims to prepare for early trial dates in the MDL.

While the outcome of any bellwether trials in the MDL will not be binding on other claims, average lawsuit payouts awarded by juries may influence Uber sexual assault settlement negotiations the company may enter to avoid each individual claim being remanded back to the U.S. District Court where it was originally filed for a future trial date.

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