Rape by Employee Covered by Employer’s Insurance
Rape by an Employee is an “Accident” Triggering Insurance Coverage
The California Supreme Court recently considered a case involving a worker named Darold Hecht. He was hired by the construction company Ledesma & Meyer Construction Company to supervise a project at a middle school in San Bernardino. Hecht was Ledesma’s brother-in-law. He was hired despite already being a registered sex offender after convictions for sexually assaulting a couple of young girls. In this instance, Hecht, age 34, raped a 13-year old student of the school (Jane Doe). Doe sued Ledesma & Meyer based on negligence. Ultimately, Ledesma’s insurer, Liberty Surplus Insurance Company, sued Ledesma & Meyer because prior appellate decisions supported the view that since it was a deliberate act, the consequences of that conduct didn’t constitute an insurable accident. Liberty alleged they weren’t obligated to defend Ledesma in the case brought by Jane Doe.
The California Supreme Court ultimately ruled that Ledesma & Meyer’s negligent hiring and supervision of Hecht, resulting in the rape of Jane Doe, constituted an “accident”. This thereby triggered insurance coverage for the assault.
This is an important decision and relates to cases of sexual assault or other violence by Uber and Lyft drivers against their passengers. Since their inception, these ride-sharing companies have failed to perform adequate background checks on their drivers. All that is required is a driver’s license, proof of adequate insurance, and a vehicle that meets the company’s standards. These are the standards specified by Uber to become one of their drivers.
If Uber performed thorough government-run background checks, including fingerprinting, the number of eligible drivers would decrease substantially. This would, of course, hurt Uber’s business. Regardless of this fact, instead of weeding out drivers with violent criminal histories, Uber’s solution to this prevalent problem is to now include a “panic button” in the Uber app.
Under this new decision, if Uber continues to fail to conduct meaningful background checks, they will be held responsible for their drivers’ conduct with their clients. Hopefully, Uber will start implementing thorough government-run background checks for their prospective drivers. Until then, they are knowingly putting their clients into harm’s way due to their lack of oversight.