Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 11 / 15 March 2018

Lyft sued over gay man's death


Donna Dinapoli, left, and Brady Lawrence are suing Lyft after an accident killed Shane Holland, who was Dinapoli's son and Lawrence's boyfriend. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland
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The boyfriend of a man killed in a crash involving Lyft and the dead man's mother are suing the ride-hailing company, saying Lyft's negligence caused the man's death.

Shane Holland, 24, and Brady Lawrence, now 29, were heading back to their West Sacramento home November 1, 2014 after a Halloween party when they requested a Lyft car driven by Shanti Adhikari, 31.

According to the California Highway Patrol, Adhikari was speeding on Interstate 80 in Sacramento and lost control of his Toyota Camry, hitting two trees. Holland was killed, while Lawrence suffered a concussion and other injuries. The CHP found Adhikari at fault, but prosecutors declined to file criminal charges.

The Toyota Camry that Brady Lawrence and Shane Holland were riding in after the accident. Photo: Courtesy Jones Clifford

Lyft is based in San Francisco. In wrongful death complaints filed in July in San Francisco Superior Court, Lawrence and Donna Dinapoli, 55, Holland's mother, say Lyft "negligently and carelessly" hired Adhikari, and the company had "created the impression" that Adhikari was Lyft's employee. They "were harmed because they reasonably relied" on their belief, court documents say, and Lyft was responsible for Adhikari's conduct.

The San Francisco Examiner has reported that according to Dinapoli, Adhikari "had a speeding violation the year before, and drove without proper insurance."

In its response to the complaints filed in court, Lyft denied all allegations. Specifically, the company says, Holland's own "negligence, recklessness, or intentional conduct" caused his injuries, and that he'd "failed to exercise ordinary care under the circumstances present prior to the alleged subject incident."

Additionally, the company says in its response that it's "a technology company, not a transportation company or common carrier, thus any common carrier causes of action should therefore be barred in accordance with the law."

Among other claims, Lyft also says that "one or more of the named defendant," presumably Adhikari, "was not an employee of Lyft Inc. at the time of the accident."

A news release from Jones Clifford, the law firm representing Lawrence and Dinapoli, says the case raises "fundamental questions about core underpinnings of the company's business and profit model – that is, Lyft's ability to minimize personnel and insurance costs by insisting it is not a transportation provider and that its drivers are not employees."

J. Kevin Morrison, the attorney representing Dinapoli and Lawrence, said they're hoping Lyft will institute stricter background checks, among other changes.

The firm provided emails that Lyft sent to Lawrence. In one email, sent the day of the crash, a Lyft representative indicated the company was lacking critical details about what happened.

"Your driver Shanti let us know about the accident," the email says. The company had "erased the cost" of the ride "and added one free ride of up to $25 to your account."

The next day, however, another email said, "We are now aware of the severity of the accident and would like to send our deepest condolences to you and Shane's loved ones for this terrible loss."

Another email said, "If you have sustained any potential injuries as a result of this accident, we encourage you to seek medical attention right away. Please rest assured that Lyft has insurance which will cover the cost of your medical care."

In response to the Bay Area Reporter 's emailed questions, Lyft spokeswoman Alexandra LaManna said, "Our hearts go out to the families and loved ones involved in this tragedy. Lyft's $1 million liability policy, which includes uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage, is designed to provide coverage for Lyft drivers to protect passengers and third parties in accidents just like this one. The investigation and litigation arising out of this accident are ongoing and liability has not been determined; however, in the meantime, Lyft's insurance policy is responding."

LaManna said Adhikari "was deactivated from using the Lyft platform following the accident."

Adhikari couldn't be reached for comment. Anjana Adhikari, the Camry's owner, is also listed as a defendant.

According to the Examiner, Dinapoli and Lawrence spoke at a California Public Utilities Commission meeting last week where commissioners "approved new regulations for ride-hail services like Uber and Lyft, but delayed discussion on fingerprinted criminal checks and other safety considerations for the next few years."


Shane Holland, left, and Brady Lawrence. Photo: Courtesy Brady Lawrence


In an interview, Dinapoli, who lives in Folsom, said that by not drinking and driving, her son "did everything that was right. He was being responsible, and I expect Lyft should do the same thing."

She said she wants the company to "take responsibility and provide some condolences, and show some remorse for this, and they haven't."

Dinapoli described Holland, who'd been majoring in physics, as "very outgoing, very sweet, very funny, and very empathetic to other people."

"I'll never be a whole person again, because part of me is gone," she said.

Lawrence said Holland, who he met in 2012, helped him overcome his "rough upbringing" in a "really religious family."

"He had a way of making me see me being gay and me being happy was OK, and I never ever felt that before from anyone," Lawrence, who now lives in Roseville, said. "... He was the only thing I was ever sure about. I was just really sure about my life with him."

Dinapoli said that just before the crash she'd urged her son to "be safe" on the road. He told his mother not to worry.

"That was the last conversation I had with Shane," she said.

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