Woman sues Lyft after being raped by one of their drivers.
Wise Morrissey attorney Michael L. Gallagher has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a nurse that was kidnapped and raped last year by a Lyft driver in St. Louis, Missouri.
The 30-year-old woman is referenced in court papers only as Jane Doe, but Cristen Giangarra held a news conference Thursday saying she wanted to speak publicly about the ordeal.
Giangarra, her lips quivering at times, recounted how on that June night she had several drinks, chose not to drive and contacted Lyft in a decision that “forever altered” her life.
“I harbor no shame in my actions,” she said. “I acted responsibly by not drinking and driving. I chose to use the App designed to safely transport passengers, and ultimately I was punished for this decision.”
She is a registered nurse who lived in St. Louis at the time. She has since moved away, her attorney said.
The driver, who has been charged with first-degree rape and kidnapping, is Larry Donnell Ward, 53, of the 3300 block of Bay Tree Drive in St. Peters.
According to charges filed by St. Louis prosecutors on Dec. 5, 2019, Ward picked up a woman on June 22, 2019 in the 1000 block of Clark Avenue, turned off his ride-share location software and pulled into an alley. He then raped the woman while she was intoxicated, charges allege. “A trip that was supposed to cover 2.6 miles and last 7 minutes turned in to an hour-long nightmare that will haunt my client for the rest of her life.”
The suit contends that San Francisco-based Lyft failed to conduct adequate background checks and failed to provide safety features that would have prevented this vicious attack.
Gallagher said his firm’s research uncovered a criminal record for Ward dating back to the 1980s including a sexual assault case from 2002 that did not result in a conviction. Other cases include theft and drug charges in the Chicago area, he said.
“When Cristen got in the vehicle that night, she had no idea that Lyft had actually sent a predator to pick her up and take her home,” Gallagher said.
He said Lyft’s background checks are inadequate in part because they only search seven years back and don’t include fingerprinting. He said the checks miss up to 10% of people “who should never be on the road if they had a proper screening process.”
Giangarra was in downtown St. Louis last June for a friend’s bachelorette party. A friend used her phone to get her a Lyft, and when the car arrived Giangarra got in and laid down in the back seat and fell asleep.
“I vaguely remember getting into the Lyft itself,” Giangarra said. “My next memory is that I was laying down in the back seat and I remember bright lights from the driver’s window. He opened the back door and was on top of me. I was wearing a jumpsuit that day and the jumpsuit was below my waist, and he was on top of me and he smiled.”
He later drove her to her destination, Gallagher said.
Giangarra went to a hospital the next morning. A representative with the circuit attorney’s office has said that results of DNA tests on Ward came back in December, prompting prosecutors to file charges.
Gallagher said Giangarra relied on Lyft’s promotional campaign that “Safety is our top priority” and that Lyft is a “safe alternative” to a taxi.
“This victim tried to fight off Ward,” Gallagher said in an earlier statement. “But he overpowered her and raped her in the back seat of his Lyft car. This is yet another example of a multibillion dollar company placing profits above their passengers.”