As Electric Scooters Proliferate, So Do Personal Injury Suits



In a repeat of the ride-sharing movement, electric scooter companies are popping up in cities across the United States; Uber has even invested in Lime, one of two primary scooter startups. Unfortunately, as these scooter services proliferate, so do associated injuries. Hospitals are reporting rising injuries, involving children, pedestrians, riders, and even vehicles. Head injuries are common since many riders don’t wear helmets while using the rental scooters. And riders, injured pedestrians, doctors, and lawmakers are all wondering who is liable for these injuries.


The Scooter Boom

Unlike the municipal bike share programs found in many cities, two companies dominate the scooter startup sector: Lime and Bird. Though there are a few others in the game, if you encounter a scooter splayed across the sidewalk in your city, it’s likely to be branded with one of those names.

From a business perspective, scooter sharing makes sense. Customers typically pay about a dollar to unlock the scooters and then pay by the minute thereafter. Most exciting for users, though, electric scooters use a dockless system, so you simply pick one up, ride it to your destination, and then leave it – no need to find a dock, the way you would with a bike share. At the end of the day, contractors gather up the scooters and charge them in their homes, redistributing them in the morning. It’s an efficient system, but like the ride-sharing industry before it, an unregulated one.


Serious Injuries Mar Rollout

Scooter sharing companies operate on the principle that it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, which is why we know so little about whether they’re safe or appropriate for our cities. That’s how we’ve arrived at the current trial by fire. Cities are considering regulations, but many people have already suffered injuries. The scooters have been deemed such a danger to riders and pedestrians in the San Francisco area that the city has suspended Bird and Lime, as well as competitor brand Spin, as they prepare for a properly regulated pilot program.

City-by-city regulations could help establish who is liable for injuries caused by scooter sharing programs, but lacking those laws, our best alternative is to turn to personal injury law to inform any decision. Typically, personal injury lawsuits include vehicular injuries, such as car accidents – a category that would likely cover scooter injuries, but also covers product defects. Though these electric scooters technically work as intended, if further study shows that they are designed to go too quickly for urban use (Bird and Lime scooters both go about 15 mph at top speed) or have other flaws, the companies may be implicated.


Predictions From Ridesharing

As injured scooter riders – and victims of scooter riders – come forward with personal injury claims, personal injury lawyers are left with a conundrum: who’s responsible? Is it the rider or the sponsoring company? Though there’s no clear answer yet, reflecting on the ridesharing movement can offer some insights.

When faced with lawsuits, ridesharing companies have applied a variety of strategies. First, they supply secondary insurance to drivers to cover passenger injuries or even injuries to drivers that occur while they’re logged in but not driving for a service. Second, the companies have done their best to separate themselves from their drivers. The drivers, they argue, are contractors and therefore independent of the company, which just provide the technology. Scooter companies will likely separate themselves even further from their users since they are paying service users, not contractors.

For the time being, scooter companies may be liable to cities for creating chaos, but they’re unlikely to accept responsibility for individual injuries. Instead, users should take greater precautions before they get on board because reckless riding could put them firmly in the crosshairs of a lawsuit.


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