Shared-Use Scooters Seem Fun Until You Hit This Liability “Pothole”
In 2017, shared-use electric scooters came on the scene, seemingly overnight in Southern California. We have to admit, they attracted us with their sense of childhood fun and the freedom to move about the city, inexpensively and without traffic constraints. These scooters have become wildly popular, and maybe you have used one, zipping through traffic, or seen one parked on the sidewalk, beckoning you to be on your way.
While e-scooters distributed by companies like Lime, Bird, and Jump (owned by Uber) have gotten an enthusiastic thumbs up from most riders, some riders, pedestrians, business owners, and municipalities around the country are lamenting their existence, because these e-scooters are often the cause of serious disruption: ridden on sidewalks, discarded in the middle of the sidewalk, in the street, or in front of businesses.
And now, the medical community is voicing concerns over the safety of these rideshares.
No One’s Invincible, Even If You Are Careful
If you’ve thought “What a great idea!” there is one difference between thinking about riding scooters and actually getting on board. Speed! Imagine your fun suddenly interrupted by an accident, your vacation interrupted, your work day ruined. Scooters seem safe, but other drivers may not see you. And… well, many of us cause our own injuries because, let’s face it, the last time we rode scooters was when we were children.
A number of credible studies have shown that e-scooters pose a significant health threat to riders, as well as pedestrians. The most recent study was conducted by the Public Health and Transportation departments in Austin, Texas, in association with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It examined 192 persons who suffered scooter-related injuries between September 5th and November 30th, 2018. The study found that nearly half of those injured suffered head injuries;15% traumatic brain injury. Upper extremity fractures accounted for 27% of the injuries, followed by lower extremity fractures at 12%. “You might want your head examined” seems appropriate here, if you are not wearing a helmet.
Closer to home, a study conducted by UCLA and published in the medical journal JAMA Network Open looked at 249 patients admitted to two Southern California emergency rooms for scooter-related injuries between September 2017 and August 2018. This study found that approximately 40% of the patients suffered head injuries, 32% suffered bone fractures, and 28% sustained cuts, sprains, or bruises without a fracture. Other notable findings of the study include the following:
The vast majority of those injured were riders (92%) as opposed to pedestrians who were struck by scooters or tripped over them. The most common cause of injury was falls (74%), followed by collisions with objects (10%), and being struck by a moving vehicle, such as a car, motorcycle, bicycle, etc. (8%). One-third of the 249 who were admitted to the emergency rooms arrived by ambulance. Only 4% of the injured riders had been wearing helmets.
An investigation by Consumer Reports published in early 2019 queried 60 medical facilities across the country. Those facilities responded that they had treated 1,545 people injured in e-scooter accidents over the last year. This number is likely only a fraction of the total, because many hospitals and emergency rooms do not collect this type of data.
While there is no official tally, at least five people have died from e-scooter accidents, including a 5-year-old boy who was riding a Lime scooter with his mother.
When we were children, we never suffered a serious injury riding our scooters, so what has changed? We think it is because we live in a congested society, everyone is in a hurry, our parents made us stay on our street, and our scooters back in the day were not motorized.
Now, a Word on Liability
With the enormous presence of e-scooters in Southern California, and the amount of injuries related to them, the question of liability has come up. A class-action lawsuit has been filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, accusing startups Lime and Bird Rides, Inc.—along with e-scooter manufacturers Xiaomi Corp. and Segway, Inc.—of gross negligence. The suit claims that these companies knew the scooters were dangerous, yet deployed them anyway, and in a manner that was certain to cause injuries. Of the nine initial plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit, two were injured when they tripped over scooters that had been left on the sidewalk, and four were injured when they were hit from behind while walking. One of those injured was a 7-year-old boy who suffered severe damage to eight of his front teeth. Since filing the suit, the attorney representing the plaintiffs says she’s been contacted by an additional 75 scooter injury victims.
Because e-scooters are a fairly new phenomenon, many issues involving liability have yet to be established. Riders who rent the scooters must sign a liability waiver, but it is unknown how many actually read or understand what they are signing. However, signing a liability waiver does not necessarily relieve a scooter rental company of liability if gross negligence can be established. An experienced personal injury lawyer can investigate each situation and determine if there is an at-fault party.
But what if the accident was not your fault? You have car insurance, right? Nope.
Will an Auto Insurance Policy Cover Scooter Injuries?
Most automobile insurance policies do not cover vehicles with less than four wheels, so it is unlikely that the rider would have that type of coverage. Most homeowners policies offer a certain amount of coverage for a person outside of his or her residence, but it may be excluded or limited because the scooter is a rental. A personal liability umbrella policy is probably the best way for a scooter rider to protect him or herself, and also the best possible source of compensation for anyone hit by a scooter.
If you’ve been injured in an e-scooter-related accident, you need to contact an experienced pedestrian accident attorney to discuss your options. The legal team at Allen, Flatt, Ballidis & Leslie has been successfully representing Orange County injury victims for over 40 years, and we will put our knowledge and experience to work on your claim. Call our Newport Beach office for a free case evaluation at (949) 752-7474.
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