Girl Assaulted in Uber Ride, Driver Facing Criminal and Civil Cases
A Virginia Beach family has filed a lawsuit against former Uber driver, 39-year-old Isagani Alvaro Morin, for inappropriate sexual contact with a middle school student. The lawsuit also names Uber as a defendant. The 13-year-old girl, who was not named in the lawsuit filed anonymously by her mother, states that she frequently used the Uber app to get rides to and from school over the course of two months in the fall of 2014. Morin would most often be the driver who arrived to drive the girl. Over the course of the ten to twenty rides she took with Morin, the driver made a number of inappropriate comments to the girl, including, “Age doesn’t matter if two people are in a relationship,” and making her pinky swear that she would not get another boyfriend. The girl consistently gave Morin a low rating on the app, but whenever she would use the app to request a ride, she continued to receive Morin as her driver. The incidents culminated in Morin reaching back and rubbing the child’s inner thigh and asking her if her mother was at home. The child then ran crying into the house, and her mother immediately called the police. According to the lawsuit, which is requesting $2 million in damages, the incidents caused the girl to experience severe anxiety and emotional distress.
The assault itself is not in dispute. While the behavior did not rise to the standard for sexual assault under Virginia state law, Morin did plead guilty to the assault earlier this year and received a 6-month prison sentence, which was suspended on the condition of one year of good behavior. The case raises an important question of whether or not Uber is responsible for its drivers’ behavior. The lawsuit claims that Uber did not adequately screen or check the background of Morin prior to allowing him to be a driver, that the company knew or should have known that Morin would exhibit sexually aggressive behavior toward his passengers, and that Uber should have intervened and taken Morin off the roads sooner than it did.
Normally, when an employee who is performing services for his employer commits illegal acts during the course of that employment, the employer can be held financially responsible for those acts. Uber has claimed in the past that it is only a ride arranging app and should not be considered the employer of its drivers for legal purposes. However, in a recent case in California, a court found that Uber is an employer of its drivers and can be held responsible for their conduct. This case may give Virginia courts an opportunity to say that Uber drivers are employees of Uber, and to hold Uber responsible for its wrongful conduct.
If your or a loved one have experienced assault, after you have contacted the police, investigate whether you may also be entitled to compensation for ensuing mental health expenses and pain and suffering. Contact the compassionate Charlottesville personal injury attorneys at Buck, Toscano & Tereskerz, Ltd. for a free consultation on your possible claim.