Celine Cutter Answers Rideshare Sexual Assault Litigation FAQs

By Susan Barfield
May 21, 2024

Susan B. (0:00:05) – Hello, everyone. Welcome to another episode of the Leverage report. Today, Celine Cutter and I are gonna be talking about the sexual assault lawsuits that involve the rideshare companies. And, Celine, before we dive right in, I would love for you to share a little bit about the Cutter Law Firm, your background,and the why behind why you became an attorney. 

Celine C. (0:00:24) – Sure. Yeah. So I’m really happy that I get to work with my dad and my sister. And we have a couple of attorneys who are not all related, but, we’ve got a great team. And it’s been really a pleasure getting to just see this side of my dad. You know, growing up, I always admired him and I’d love to watch him at work, but it’s really cool to be able to learn from him as a mentor and have that experience. I didn’t always know that I wanted to be a lawyer. I will say, you know, I had my rebellious streak of, oh, I’m not gonna do exactly what my dad does. But, you know, after I graduated from college, I was in Teach For America, and I was working with high schoolers. Number of my students had experienced traumatic life events and I felt that I want to be able to do more to help those children. But in my role as a teacher, I wasn’t putting my skill set my specific skill set to the best use I could to help people in the way that I wanted to. So that was why I applied to law school. It’s a real privilege to be able to work with people who’ve been through traumatic life experiences.

Susan B. (0:01:26) – Sure. Yeah. Absolutely. Well, I appreciate you sharing that. I guess just to kinda start off, about, you know, our discussion today, will you describe the current landscape of sexual assault lawsuits and by involving the rideshare companies like Uber? 

Celine C. (0:01:42) – Yeah. So there are ,against Uber, there are 2 coordinated proceedings, 1 in state court and 1 in federal court. Both are then you did in San Francisco. So, we’re with Judge Schulman in the state court coordinated proceeding in San Francisco Superior, and then we have Judge Breyer in the Northern District of California also in San Francisco. And then there is a coordinated proceeding in San Francisco superior against Lyft, also in front of judge Chang. 

Susan B. (0:02:11) – Have there been cases filed to date, and if so, how many? Trying to understand what is the prevalence of these cases, and have you observed any trends over the recent years?

Celine C. (0:02:16) – Yeah. So in our state court proceeding against Uber, there are about 1600 filed cases, and I think a number in the MDL is closely approaching that. In the Lyft coordinated proceeding, there are somewhat fewer cases, but sexual assault is an epidemic and it’s really sad number of victims out there. But what’s hard to say is really how many cases there are because it’s very difficult for victims to come forward. So we really don’t know what the true number of cases would be. 

Susan B. (0:02:46) – How would you say that the ride share companies like the Uber and Lyft, how are they responding to these allegations? 

Celine C. (0:02:54) – They’ve taken a pretty aggressive litigation posture, in particular, Uber, fighting the lawsuit on 2 fronts now. I think the Lyft case is in a bit of a different posture that coordinated proceeding is currently stayed in in more of a settlement posture because it was on the books earlier. That case was in a more advanced, more mature litigation state. So we were on the verge of trying some bellwethers there, then we sort of entered into more of a settlement posture. But overall, they you know, I would not say that either company is in a place where they’re taking a number of victims that are not been compensated, in particular, Uber where we’re not in any kind of solemn posture. They have not taken what I would consider to be adequate steps to both look back and compensate the victims we know are there and to prevent these types of incidents from happening in the future.

Susan B. (0:03:40) – What differences should attorneys be aware of between Uber, like the right what we’re talking about today, those types of lawsuits, and other types of sexual assault or personal injury lawsuits.

Celine C. (0:03:52) – Yeah. So I think these cases as a sexual assault case, it’s not necessarily that different from another sexual assault premises liability case. It is a premises liability case. It is a difference from other if you do, like, a catastrophic car injure car wreck type of case or if you do a lot of, you know, drug and device type of litigation. What’s really different is you’re dealing with a plaintiff, a client who’s been a victim of a serious crime, a violent crime. They come out of this experience when they’re in it. You know, they don’t know if they’re gonna survive the experience. And it does things to the person’s psyche. It does things to their ability to talk about what happened that makes it really different and more challenging in some ways to put on your evidence because have to talk to the person and get them to a place where they’re able to  disclose what happened to them, which can be a really difficult process. 

Susan B. (0:04:36) -Yeah. I was just gonna ask for Cutter Law Firm, what is the criteria of the cases that you’re taking? And maybe share the key elements that attorneys need to establish in the ride share and sexual assault cases? 

Celine C. (0:04:43) – Sure. Yeah. So to establish liability, to see if a person has a potential case against one of these ride share companies. They need to have some kind of proof of the ride taking place. If they order the ride themselves, they’ll have a receipt on their phone. You know, they’ll get an email receipt or it’s in the app. Sometimes a friend will order the ride for them, you know, then they can reach out to them and try to get the information that way. Of course, you can also imagine an instance where, you know, maybe someone’s been out drinking and a stranger at the bar orders a ride for them. So in those situations, it can be a little more challenging to try to get that ride receipt. If you have a high level of confidence that a ride took place, you know, if you get into litigation, that’s you can get the receipt. But that’s something that you need to try to establish upfront that the sexual assault happened as a result of using the app to call the ride. Sometimes you’ll get a call from somebody who says, I had used this Uber driver before. He gave me his personal phone number so I could call him for a ride another time. If that’s a situation where they call them on a subsequent time and it wasn’t a ride arranged to the app, that’s gonna be a a deal breaker probably in terms of your ability to get the company. Mhmm. You have to be liable. Other than that, with any sexual assault, what you usually have is called a he-said-she-said situation. So the other challenge is, of course, to come up with some kind of contemporaneous evidence that this happened and so we look to see, did they tell anybody what happened? Did they report it to the company? Right? So Uber and Lyft both have a way that you can report something happened, but in the app, did you call the police? That’s another thing that a lot of victims will do. Of course, they’ve been a victim of a crime. They call the police. So those are factors that we look at in looking at whether we’ll be able to carry our burden and proof in the case. Till now, has there been any cases that have been tried or settled yet? No trials yet, but have been some cases settled, as I mentioned, You kinda more on the left side prior to the coordinated proceedings getting started. I think that maybe some cases were settled with Uber, but as the volume kinda increased, their their stance on that changed. And we have bellwether trial set in our JCCP for Uber set in a year. 

Susan B. (0:06:50) – Are there any misconceptions or mistakes that attorneys should be aware of? 

Celine C. (0:06:51) – Yes. I think it’s a mistake to think about this as a garden variety tort case. It’s not something that if you do a big volume type of practice, you’re not gonna be able to staff these cases the way that you maybe typically staff those other cases. These clients require a lot more of a personal connection. You gotta invest in staff that are appropriately trained in working with sexual assault victims. So that’s, I think, the number one thing that I would say to any firm that’s looking at getting involved in sexual assault. Whether it’s ride share or other, really, really crucial that you and your staff be trauma-informed in your approach. Outside of mistakes and misconceptions,

Susan B. (0:07:34) – what advice would you give anyone that’s listening, that’s interested in these cases, investing and trying to help, you know, similar victims? What would you provide as advice? 

Celine C. (0:07:39) – The risk of repeating myself. I think if you’re gonna help the victims, like I said, you wanna take a trauma-informed approach, and then in doing the work, take care of yourself too. And I think this is true of all of us and who work in the towards space, you know, that you’re you’re working with a traumatized population, people who’ve had suffered life changing injuries or had something terrible happened to them. But the psychic toll it can take of of talking to a lot of sexual assault victims is real. And you and your staff need to have a system in place or have that open conversation about how are we doing? Check-in with each other and take a mental health day when you need it because the work is really demanding and it really requires you to dig deep.

Susan B. (0:08:26) –  Sure. Yeah. Absolutely. I definitely think that’s great advice. Any upcoming legal changes or technological advancements that could influence these types of cases?

Celine C. (0:08:29) – Yeah. Well, so I know that in the news, Lyft has started rolling out a change where, women can request a female driver to pick them up. I think that does have a have a potential to really change things because the vast majority of these instances are the perpetrators are men, and most of the victims are women. Of course, sometimes weeks, we do get male victims also. But I have yet to see a female perpetrator. That’s just just a fact of the way that these crimes take place. So that’s one change. And another change is that I think these companies have the power to put cameras in the cars. Interior facing dash cams that would have accountability for drivers and for passengers of what’s going on in this car and allow a certain level of safety surveillance. So those are some technological changes that could definitely change that industry for the better. 

Susan B. (0:09:20) – Mhmm. You mentioned, Celine, that outside of the requirements and the need of a team that’s trained to have these level of conversations, Any other unique challenges that you’ve seen? You made the statement they’re very different than your traditional volume mass tort cases that you’re acquiring and working them up. Any other unique challenges that that you’ve seen with these cases? 

Celine C. (0:09:51) – Yeah. It is that kind of proof issue that we talked about. It’s not a situation where you’re you’re gonna have a receipt from the pharmacy or a a slip from your surgery showing that, you know, you had this. So look closely, talk to your client about what conversations did you have after this incident. Did you talk to a family member or loved one to tell them what happened? That kind of corroborating witness can go a long way towards balance out that he said, she said, which which can be a challenge. I think the other thing is that there can be a difficulty of when people report to the rideshare company, just put yourself in the shoes of a of an assault victim. You want that person to be off the streets. You don’t want them to do this to somebody else, and so you kinda try to reach out to the company to say, the driver did something, But you’re just texting on an app or you’re getting a phone call from a customer service stranger, and you probably don’t feel comfortable to describe the terrifying event that you’ve just been through. But that’s something that we see potentially getting thrown back in our faces. Right? Well, you know, the company might say, sure. They made a report, but they all they reported was that the driver made them uncomfortable. They didn’t report physical contact. So you have to be prepared to work with your client and help develop their perspective, help them to tell their story about why I didn’t feel comfortable to disclose this because that’s another factor is and you might be overcoming your own prejudices and looking at it saying, as an attorney, we’re trying to look at what the documents say And if the document, you know, this ride receipt they have just says, the driver made an sexual comment to me and it doesn’t say, well, the driver touched me or assaulted me, you might feel your own lawyer suspicion going, well, they’re not telling the truth. What you have to understand is when working with these victims, it’s really difficult to disclose a sexual assault. It’s hard to talk about. There’s a lot of societal stigma and just living through that experience really scrambles their brain. It does. It affects their ability to talk about it and to behave normally in a lot of, like, standard everyday social circumstances. A lot of these victims don’t wanna leave the house. They get anxiety in crowded spaces because they feel trapped again. So there’s just a lot of factors that you have to wade through in helping  understand what you’re seeing on paper maybe doesn’t match up with the story that you’re hearing from the victim. 

Susan B. (0:11:50) -Well, it goes back to your point about how critical it is to have a team that is trained to have these trauma-informed discussions and how to ask the open-ended questions and not retraumatize them. That that could to more injury just by being on calls, talking with them, and and having them to go through this experience if you’re not trained, and knowing how to do that. So I definitely appreciate that. Celine, this has been fantastic. Certainly grateful for you to take time to connect with me and share your expertise. Of course, we’re we’re thankful for your commitment to seeking justice in this legal battle. For those who are listening, stay informed, in further developments on this case. Celine, grateful thankful for you to spend time talking about this litigation. 

Featured Streams