Uber Seeks Pause on MDL for Driver Sexual Abuse Lawsuits Pending Appeals Court Review
As a growing number of Uber sexual assault lawsuits continue to be pursued in the federal court system, the rideshare company has asked the U.S. District Judge recently appointed to preside over the litigation to pause all pretrial proceedings, while it asks an appeals court to reverse a recent decision that centralized claims filed nationwide in one court as part of a federal MDL, or multidistrict litigation.
There are currently 185 lawsuits against Uber pending in the federal court system, each raising similar 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 claims 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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Uber Challenges MDL Transfer Order
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, in November Uber filed a petition for a writ of mandamus (PDF), asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to review the JPML’s decision. The rideshare service argues that the claims should never have been consolidated because the cases rely on individual injuries which occurred due to the actions of third-party drivers.
“The Panel ordered the centralization of 22 (and growing) individual personal injury lawsuits arising from the sexual assault of plaintiffs allegedly perpetrated by third-party drivers using the Uber App – – each of which involved a different driver-assailant, under different and unique circumstances, in different states with very different laws, presenting a variety of highly individualized and case-specific questions,” the petition stated.
Since then, the litigation has grown considerably, and Judge Breyer has appointed a group of Uber sexual assault lawyers to serve in leadership positions in the MDL, taking certain actions during discovery and pretrial proceedings that will benefit all plaintiffs presenting claims against the rideshare company.
Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued an order (PDF) agreeing to consider the petition, granting plaintiffs an extension to file an answer by January 11, 2024. Uber can then file an optional reply by February 1, 2024.
As a result of the pending appeal, Uber filed a motion to stay the MDL proceedings (PDF) 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.
“Granting a temporary, brief stay here while the Ninth Circuit adjudicates Uber’s writ petition best promotes judicial economy and efficiency,” according to the motion. “As of now, the Parties and Court are scheduled to expend considerable time, effort and resources litigating and deciding various disputes in this matter. Among other things, the Parties are actively litigating the protective order that will govern this case, a discovery plan, and a schedule for the filing of a long-form complaint and for briefing motions to dismiss, amongst other items.”
January 2024 Uber Sexual Assault Lawsuit Update
Plaintiffs have not yet filed a response outlining their position on how Judge Breyer should handle the MDL proceedings while awaiting a decision from the Ninth Circuit.
It was ultimately expected that the parties would 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.
Judge Breyer is currently scheduled to hold a case management conference with the parties on January 12, 2024, but that may change depending on whether the Court grants Uber’s request to stay the MDL proceedings.
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