WeHo woman sues Uber for negligence after being raped by driver

A West Hollywood woman sued Uber Technologies on Thursday, alleging that the ride-hailing company’s negligence led to her being raped by an Uber driver.

The lawsuit, which was filed in the Superior Court of Los Angeles on behalf of the 27-year-old plaintiff, said the San Francisco company “aggressively promotes its safety … [but] instead of delivering Plaintiff a safe ride to her destination, Uber introduced Plaintiff to her rapist — her Uber driver.

“The company’s website says [it’s] ‘A ride you can always trust,’ and ‘Uber is dedicated to keeping people safe on the road’ — unfortunately, Uber failed in its promise to keep Plaintiff safe,” said the lawsuit, filed by attorney Antonio Castillo III. 

The incident allegedly occurred July 21, 2014, when the plaintiff took an Uber to her boyfriend’s home after a night out. According to the lawsuit, she never made it to his house, and the last thing she remembers was taking a sip from a water bottle provided by the driver while in the passenger seat of his car (it is not uncommon for Uber drivers to offer passengers water bottles, mints and gum).

She awoke the next morning naked in her own bed, with a condom wrapper on her nightstand. It is unclear how she got back to her own room. 

The UCLA Rape Treatment Center matched the DNA found on the plaintiff to Uber driver Walter Alberto Ponce. Ponce was charged with two felonies: rape of an unconscious person and assault with intent to commit rape. These charges were reduced to a lesser charge of criminal sexual battery, to which he did not contest. He served six months in jail and is currently on probation. He is also required to register as a sex offender.

Uber conducts criminal background checks on its drivers before hiring them, but Ponce did not have a criminal record prior to the 2014 incident. 

Castillo told The Times that although no background check is perfect, he hopes the lawsuit will push the ride-hailing company, which has a valuation of $62.5 billion, to do more.

“Right now, their background check largely consists of an online application with no fingerprinting and no in-person interview,” he said in a phone interview. “Were there more rigorous background checks, or an in-person interview, even if someone had a clean background, it would act as a deterrent against certain behaviors.”

Uber declined to comment. The company has in the past deactivated drivers charged with criminal behavior and assisted police in investigations. 

Ponce’s conviction was not the first case involving an Uber driver accused of rape. In March, Anaheim resident Omar Mahmoud Mousa was taken into custody on rape charges after allegedly attacking a female passenger he picked up from a bar in Fullerton. 

The plaintiff’s civil suit demands a jury trial, and she is seeking punitive damages, compensation for “pain and suffering according to proof,” and costs related to the lawsuit. 

The case is expected to enter a discovery period that could last through the end of the year.

tracey.lien@latimes.com

Twitter: @traceylien

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UPDATES:

7:55 p.m.: This article was updated to reflect that Uber declined to comment.

This article was originally published at 6:15 p.m.

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