Uber Sexual Assault MDL Will Proceed, After Judge Rejects Motion to Breakup Centralization Due to Rideshare App’s Terms of Service

Judge says company's arguments against an Uber sexual assault MDL would interfere with the court's ability to efficiently manage the growing litigation.

The U.S. District Judge presiding over all Uber sexual assault lawsuits filed in federal courts nationwide has rejected arguments by the rideshare service claiming that consumers forfeited their right to be part of a multidistrict litigation (MDL) when they signed the terms of service.

It is an argument that Uber has made since the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) was first considering the creation of an Uber sexual assault MDL. It failed to sway the JPML, and according to a court order (PDF) issued on May 20, it has failed to sway the judge appointed to oversee coordinated pretrial proceedings for the litigation as well.

The rideshare service currently faces more than 250 Uber sexual assault lawsuits filed by former users of the rideshare app, each making similar allegations that the company failed to take appropriate safety precautions to prevent sexual predators from working as drivers and targeting passengers on a regular basis.

Despite supposed “Safe Ride Fees” put in place by Uber in 2014, which plaintiffs say only led to cursory background checks on drivers, lawsuits filed in the Uber sexual assault MDL claim very little changed to create a safer environment for passengers, many of whom now claim they were sexually harassed or even raped by Uber drivers.

Plaintiffs claim that the company failed to take reasonable steps to protect passengers from such predation, such as adding surveillance cameras to vehicles, or giving drivers proper training on issues of sexual assault and harassment.

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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 lawsuits over Uber driver assaults in October 2023, 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.

As part of the coordinated pretrial proceedings, it is expected that Judge Breyer will select a small group of representative claims filed in the Uber sexual assault MDL to serve as early test trials, which may drive future Uber sexual assault settlement negotiations.

Judge Rejects Uber Terms of Service Argument

Since the litigation began, Uber has attempted a scattershot approach to stopping or stalling the claims, with at least half a dozen motions to dismiss Uber lawsuits filed since the beginning of April, each using various theories and interpretations of state laws to argue that either an Uber sexual assault MDL should not exist, or that most claims should not be a part of it.

One of those motions argues that plaintiffs were contractually barred from filing claims that are part of centralized and coordinated proceedings once they agreed to Uber’s Terms of Service Agreement when using the rideshare service’s app.

In his order, Judge Breyer shot down that theory, noting that it would interfere with the court’s ability to do its job.

“The judiciary’s case management powers…ultimately serve not only the parties’ interests, but the public interest in the efficient and effective use of judicial resources,” Judge Breyer wrote. “In this respect, the Non-Consolidation Clause substantially interferes with the public interests that Congress sought to advance – and the means by which it sought to advance them – when it enacted the MDL statute. So the clause is unenforceable.”

May 2024 Uber Sexual Assault Lawsuit Update

The decision clears the way for the Uber sexual assault MDL to move forward, though the rideshare app continues to pursue various other arguments that seek to have the litigation thrown out.

Following coordinated general discovery in the Uber sexual assault lawsuits, and presuming the cases survive further motions to have them dismissed, it is expected that the court will select a small group of representative claims to go through case-specific discovery and be prepared for early trial dats, which will be used to gauge how juries are likely to respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be repeated throughout the litigation.

While the outcome of any bellwether trials in the MDL will not be binding on other claims, average Uber sexual assault lawsuit payouts awarded by juries may influence later settlement agreements. If no Uber sexual assault lawsuit settlement is reached, each individual claim may be remanded back to the U.S. District Court where it was originally filed for a future trial date.

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