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Can a Dating Site Be Sued If Your Date Turns Dangerous?

By Catherine Hodder, Esq. | Last updated on
It's hard to meet people these days, which is why so many online dating services are currently on the market. How safe are they? Dating apps like Tinder, Hinge, Grindr, OKCupid, Plenty of Fish, eHarmony, and Bumble allow users to create online dating profiles without any criminal background checks. What do you do if your date becomes dangerous? Can you sue the dating app for matching you? The answer may surprise you. The Communications Decency Act generally bars liability of any dating app for harm happening from a third-party user. Under tort law and negligence theories, a duty of care only exists if the parties have a special relationship.

Does a Dating App Have a Special Relationship With the App User?

When matched Kay Beckman with Wade Riley on, Wade viciously stabbed and beat Beckman. Beckman brought a lawsuit against Beckman argued that Match had a duty to warn her that her date was dangerous, but the courts disagreed. With no special relationship established between and Beckman, Match didn't even have a duty to warn, let alone any sort of duty to protect. The ruling of the Ninth Circuit determined that no special relationship exists between a dating app user and the app itself.

Actual Knowledge Can Be Hard To Come By

If, however, a dating app has actual knowledge that someone using their site has been found guilty of committing violent acts so similar that they would rise to the level of foreseeable harm, then it is possible there could be a duty to warn. Unfortunately, dating apps will not go out of their way to find this knowledge. For instance, in the Beckman case, Ridley had a history of criminal violence, including domestic violence and battery, about ten years before this attack. However, Match was unaware of this criminal record and, therefore, did not have actual knowledge of foreseeable harm.

How Safe Is Online Dating?

In a 2023 Pew Research poll about trends in internet dating, they found that for women under 50:
  • 56% received an unwelcome sexually explicit message or image
  • 43% continued to receive messages after they expressed they were not interested
  • 37% were called an offensive name
  • 11% received threats of harm
If you are being harassed, report the person to the dating website and law enforcement. Take screenshots as evidence of the harassment. The study also reported that 60% of Americans polled think dating platforms should conduct background checks on users before allowing them to create a profile. In 2022, the Office of Justice Programs (OJP) reported that most sexual assaults occur on the first in-person meeting.

How Can You Protect Yourself When Online Dating?

Since dating sites do not screen their users for criminal backgrounds (because they don't have an obligation to), there are steps you can take before your first date:
  • Avoid scams. Do not give personal information such as phone number, birthdate, social security number, or credit card or banking information.
  • Avoid 'catfishing' where scammers create fake profiles on social media to cause you harm.
  • Arrange for your own transportation. Do not let your date pick you up or drop you off.
  • Meet in public places. Do not go to remote locations.
  • Let your friends and family know where you are and when you expect to return.
  • Use your phone locator apps where your friends and family can track your location.
  • Look for red flags and listen to your gut.
  • Check the government's Public Sex Offender Registry to search registered sex offenders in your area.

What To Do if You Are Assaulted?

In the unfortunate case you are a victim of assault, sexual or otherwise, do the following things:
  • Make sure you are in a safe place and call 911.
  • Get immediate medical attention for physical injuries.
  • Keep clothing and any DNA evidence (such as skin underneath fingernails) for the police.
  • Make a police report detailing the assault.
  • Seek counseling and resources for emotional support.
If you have been hurt, physically or psychologically, by someone you met on a dating app, contact a local personal injury attorney. Some factors could give rise to a duty of care owed by the dating app. At the very least, a legal adviser can help you secure protective orders against your assailant and may even be able to successfully take legal action to reimburse you for your costs, as well as pain and suffering. Whether you are using online dating apps for a long-term relationship or hookup, know what red flags to look for and take steps to protect yourself.
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