Attorney: 'A Lyft ride should end with a safe ride home, not an assault'

A Lyft passenger said her driver climbed into the back seat and assaulted her once she reached her house last month.

The driver was charged, but the UNF student says that’s not enough and now she’s filing a lawsuit.

Ismael Esa is facing misdemeanor battery charges after police said he groped the woman, but he’s pleaded not guilty. The student has also filed a restraining order against Esa in addition to the lawsuit.

A Lyft ride should end with a safe ride home, not an assault.

That’s the message David Wolf is sharing on behalf of his client, a UNF student who said in January she was assaulted by Esa in the back of his car.

“She doesn’t want this happening to others and she wants the word and message to get out there that she never expected on that evening for this to happen to her,” Wolf said.

Esa is facing misdemeanor battery charges, but Wolf said it’s not enough. The lawsuit states the driver and the company that hired him, Lyft should be held responsible.

Wolf said Lyft markets itself as safe and family friendly, but doesn’t do enough to make sure passengers are safe.

“What we’re seeing prominently is that advertising without any substance behind the advertising. You do a simple background check that doesn’t mean a person hasn’t been caught. Where is the supervision, where is the accountability, where are the conversations?

The City of Jacksonville requires companies like Lyft to provide medallions (a permit issued by a government agency to operate a taxicab), background checks, insurance and inspections, but in Esa’s case there was no medallion, no background check provided to the city, and no city inspection.

City Councilman Matt Schellenberg shared his insight on if the company was breaking city law.

“According to the Lyft representative they are following the rules that are in the ordinance in this point and time. Our general counsel says that’s not correct,” Schellenberg said. “So I think the committee that I am chairing is for clarification of what actually they are required to do.”

As he works to gain clarity, Wolf and his client are moving forward with a lawsuit they hope will inspire change, and make ride sharing in Jacksonville, safer.

“I don’t think anybody would want their family member their young son, their daughter in the back of a vehicle with the risk of this taking place,” Wolf said.

The lawsuit asks for damages in excess of $15,000 not including attorney’s fees. They hope the suit will lead to a more thorough hiring process and training for Lyft employees.