Florida lawsuits raise serious questions about how Uber screens its drivers

Lawsuits cite sexual assault incident, identity theft by Uber drivers
Uber Gas Charge
Posted at 11:17 AM, Jun 20, 2023

TAMPA, Fla. — Chances are, you’ve done it.

Hail a ride by tapping your phone.

But with all the convenience Uber has to offer people on the go, we’ve also seen stories detailing when an Uber driver is accused of going rogue, taking unsuspecting passengers down a dangerous, dark road.

FL passengers accuse Uber of letting criminals behind the wheel

Now two Floridians claim it happened to them.

“Incomprehensible, really, that something like this could occur,” said Damian Josefsberg, a South Florida businessman who claims his identity was stolen by an Uber driver.

“I’ve never felt so violated in my life,” said Grace, a young Tampa woman who claims an Uber driver sexually assaulted her.

Grace and Josefsberg are now suing Uber, blaming the ride-sharing giant of failing to properly screen its drivers to allow criminals behind the wheel.

“I feel like I lost a piece of myself,” Grace told Investigative Reporter Katie LaGrone recently about the night, she said, an Uber driver raped her during a ride. Due to the nature of her allegations, Grace asked us not to reveal her face or share her last name.

“I would never want anybody else to go through what I went through,” she said while recalling the incident.

“I’ve never felt so violated in my life”

It was December 2021.

Grace was with friends in Tampa celebrating her upcoming 21st birthday when she admits she got drunk, very drunk.

“It’s hard for me to talk about because I don’t remember,” she said.

According to her lawsuit, after getting separated from her friends, a good Samaritan noticed Grace’s condition and called for an Uber.

Jane Doe Complaint by ABC Action News on Scribd

But instead of dropping her off at home, the lawsuit states, the Uber driver sexually assaulted her. According to a Sheriff’s investigation, Grace was with the Uber driver for nearly four hours. When the Uber driver finally dropped her off at the hotel where her friends were staying, witnesses reported that Grace had her underwear down at her ankles and had soiled herself. After piecing things together the next day, Grace reported the incident to police and was sent to a crisis center for a sexual assault exam.

In a sheriff’s report, the driver, Anthony Oliveras Rivera, admitted he and Grace had sexual intercourse in the back seat, but it was only after, he claimed, Grace asked him if wanted to “have fun.”

“When I found out that he said that, it made me feel horrible knowing that he did that to me, and I didn’t even remember, and I didn’t know,” Grace said in response to the recollection he told investigators about the incident.

An Uber driver with a criminal past?

And while her accuser remains in a Hillsborough County jail after pleading not guilty to sexual battery charges in the case, Grace’s lawsuit against Uber cites records that raise serious questions over how and why Uber would ever allow Oliveras Rivera to be a driver, trusted alone with passengers.

According to the lawsuit, Oliveras Rivera’s history includes serious run-ins with the law that date back more than twenty years. Those incidents include multiple arrests and a 2002 felony conviction for drug possession and first-degree robbery with a firearm in New York.

Records we obtained also show the man Uber approved to be a driver has a long list of driving violations.

Running a stop sign, speeding and careless driving among just some of the violations he pled guilty to in Florida. His Florida driving record also shows his license was suspended multiple times before the night he met Grace.

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“Who in their right mind would hire someone with this type of history,” said Grace’s attorney Andrea Lewis.

“Uber goes out of its way to advise passengers and all of us that they do have thorough background checks about drivers’ criminal history, driving history, and any violations that they may have. Yet, someone like this can be employed by Uber. It’s mind-boggling,” she said.

On its website, Uber describes its driver screening process as a “multi-step safety screening” process to flag prospective drivers with problem pasts.

Uber defends “rigorous” driver screening process

In a statement, an Uber spokesperson added its “rigorous” driver screening process includes working with background check providers and several identity safeguards.

But failures in those background checks and safeguards have resulted in several Uber settlements around the country.

And more lawsuits.

“We think it’s systemic”

Including what Damian Josefsberg hopes will become the latest class action lawsuit against Uber for, what he described, as “it’s failure to properly screen drivers.”

Josefsberg blames Uber and its outsourced screener, Checkr Inc., after he said someone stole his identity to pass the company’s background check.

The South Florida businessman discovered he was a victim after finding a tax form in his name with the listed employer as Uber.

“I had never contacted Uber to be a driver for them. I had no paperwork sent to me from Uber. Ought not for my checking of my tax reports, I wouldn’t know even to this point that was driving under my name for Uber,” Josefsberg said.

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Josefsberg’s lawsuit alleged that federal law required Uber to notify him before conducting a background check, which he and his attorney said never happened.

Damian Josefsberg Complaint by ABC Action News on Scribd

“We think it is systemic. We think it is a pattern of behavior, and the preliminary evidence we’ve gathered to date would support that,” said attorney Kenney Murena.

When asked if thinks there could be thousands of victims who have had their identities stolen in a similar fashion due to Uber’s failed screening process, Murena replied, “I do. If not tens of thousands of victims."

Uber isn’t talking about either of these lawsuits.

But on its website, the company has forms passengers can fill out if they believe they’ve been a victim of identity theft or any other crime.

In its statement, a spokesperson added, “While we can’t comment on pending litigation, our work on safety never stops.”

But these Floridians believe they’re proof that’s not true and told us they are still suffering the consequences.

“Lives are in people’s hands and they’re hiring people that are doing crazy stuff. It’s insane to me,” said Grace.

Uber maintains any safety incident represents just a fraction of all rides, and the company routinely updates its approach to rider safety.

If you have information about Uber’s background check process, Investigative Reporter Katie LaGrone wants to hear from you.