Uber Sexual Assault Cases Centralized Before Federal Judge in Northern District of California
A panel of federal judges has decided that all Uber sexual assault lawsuits will be consolidated and centralized before one judge in the Northern District of California, for coordinated discovery and pretrial proceedings.
Uber faces more than 80 lawsuits over sexual assaults while using the rideshare service, which are currently pending in at least a dozen different U.S. District Courts. However, each claim raises similar allegations that the company failed to take appropriate safety precautions to protect passengers and prevent known sexual predators from working as rideshare drivers.
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.
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In July, a group of plaintiffs filed a motion with the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML), asking it to consolidate all Uber assault cases before one federal judge for pretrial proceedings in the Northern District of California.
The motion indicates there may eventually be thousands of lawsuits filed by individuals who were also sexually assaulted or harassed by Uber drivers, each raising common questions of fact and law against the rideshare company. Plaintiffs argue consolidation is necessary to reduce duplicative discovery into common issues, avoid conflicting pretrial rulings from different courts and promote judicial efficiencies.
Uber, however, filed a motion opposing consolidation of the sexual assault cases in August, arguing that plaintiffs entered into a contractual agreement prohibiting such consolidation when they signed up for the rideshare service. In addition, the company claims individual issues would dominate each case, making centralization inefficient.
Uber Sexual Assault Lawsuits Consolidated in Northern California
Following oral arguments late last month, the JPML issued a transfer order (PDF) on October 4, calling for all Uber sexual assault cases to be centralized for pretrial proceedings in the Northern District of California under Judge Charles R. Breyer.
According to the order, the motion to consolidate was first filed when there were 22 actions pending in 11 different districts. However, since that time there have been an additional 57 related actions filed in four more different districts.
In its decision, the JPML rejected Uber’s arguments against consolidation.
“Defendants respond that, unlike in a medical device products liability litigation, an overarching question of general causation will not be at issue here. We find there are sufficient common issues present to warrant centralized treatment, including, for example, Uber’s knowledge of the prevalence of sexual assault, representations regarding safety, and policies and practices for handling complaints about drivers,” the panel wrote. “Given the large and growing number of involved actions and counsel, centralization likely will streamline overlapping discovery and pretrial proceedings arising from nearly identical allegations regarding Uber’s corporate policies and practices as to alleged passenger sexual assaults.”
Now that an Uber sexual assault MDL has been established, each individual claim will be transferred to Judge Breyer for pretrial proceedings, and it is expected that a series of bellwether trial will be scheduled to help the parties gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be repeated throughout the litigation. However, if Uber sexual assault settlements are not reached to resolve large numbers of cases following the MDL proceedings, each individual lawsuit may later be returned back to the U.S. District Court where it was originally filed for trial.
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