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Electric Scooter Accident Lawsuits: Who is Liable in an Electric Scooter Injury?

  • September 24, 2018
  • KBA Attorneys
  • No Comments

Electric scooters have officially rolled into Maryland, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Boston, Raliegh, and surrounding suburbs. There are several venture-backed companies pushing out electronic scooter rental networks in cities and college campuses across America, including Bird and Lime. Think Uber, but for scooters. Take a stroll in Clarendon or in Chinatown and you will find tons of scooters littering the sidewalks and people zipping down busy streets on them. eScooters can go up to 15 mph and run on the same type of lithium-ion batters that your phone and laptop use.

We are aware of at least three escooter rental companies: Bird, Waybots and Lime-S. To find them, you just use an app. Bird allows people to ride scooters for $1, then 15 cents per minute. Unlike Bikeshare Bicycles, Bird scooters may not have any designated charging station or drop off locations, meaning they can be left anywhere. Predictably, this is a good thing for those looking for escooters, but a bad thing for people walking on the sidewalk.

Superficially, electronic, rentable escooters seem like a great idea. They allow city-dwellers to pick a scooter up off a sidewalk and take off with a push of a button. There’s just one problem: they can be unsafe. There have already been many people injured on electronic, ride-share scooters. One lawsuit recently filed in New York alleges that the plaintiff was injured when the scooter suddenly ejected her, causing serious injury.

On September 21, 2018, a male rider of an electric scooter was killed in Dupont Circle when he was hit by an SUV and dragged for “about 20 yards,” according to a witness. Police say the man died at a hospital shortly after the incident. The man was using a Lime scooter. According to the D.C. Department of Transportation, this was the city’s first fatality involving a shared scooter since the service started in the spring. One witness said that the scooter driver was in a crosswalk at the time of the incident, but it was unclear whether he had the right of way.

Why Electric Scooters are Dangerous

• Visibility: eScooters are very small, making riders less visible to drivers. Traffic can obscure eScooter riders.

• Limited Protection: Scooter riders are susceptible to injury because the elements like weather and road conditions expose them to risks. They have no metal cage or airbags to protect them from collisions. Also, most escooter riders do not wear helmets.

• Limited Stability: Because they only have two small wheels, escooters are extremely unstable. Just the slightest jostling can cause the rider to lose his or her balance. Many escooter riders ride on sidewalks, which have bumps and dips, making for a very dangerous ride.

So who is responsible when an escooter injures someone? Like most answers in the law: it depends.

Car Versus eScooter Accidents – when eScooters Collide

Here are some examples of the most common scooter and car collisions:

  • Dooring– Dooring accidents occur when the driver of a parked car opens the car door in the path of oncoming traffic, causing the escooter rider to crash into the door. Drivers can avoid causing these collisions by looking for oncoming traffic.
  • Right Cross – Right cross accidents happen when an escooter entering an intersection is side-swiped by a motorist coming from the right side.
  • Right Hook – Right hook accidents happen when a car and escooter are traveling parallel in the same lane of traffic with the car to the left of the scooter The car then turns right and hits the scooter. Vehicle drivers should look out for escooters traveling on the side of the road or in a dedicated bike lane to avoid these collisions.
  • Left Cross – Left cross accidents happen when a motorist is turning left in an intersection and collides with an escooter heading straight in the opposite direction. These accidents frequently occur when a motorist is looking ahead and fails to see the scooter coming from the other direction to the left or fails to judge the escooter’s speed.
  • Rear-Ender – Just like in regular car collisions, escooters can be rear-ended too. This occurs when a motorist fails to keep a safe distance from a escooter traveling in front of him, or fails to monitor speed.

Product Liability Claims Against the Manufacturer

Escooter riders may be able to sue an electric scooter company for product liability claims. Product liability claims cam come in three varieties:

• Manufacturing Defect: In this claim, the company is negligent during the manufacturing process. This results in a structural problem, creating an unsafe product.

• Design Defect: In this claim, even before the product is made, there is an issue with the design. In other words, the design is inherently unsafe. For example, the locking mechanism on the handlebars is weak and comes undone while using the escooter.

• Failure to Warn: In a failure to warn claim, the plaintiff claims better instructions for use or warnings would prevent the escooter injury.

Claims against Rental Companies

Companies like Bird escooter and Lime escooter rent escooters for temporary use. Often times they fail to provide any safety equipment. The make and model available may be unsafe. They make the escooters available at times or places that are inherenlty unsafe. For example, many schools and cities have banned use of escooters at night on college campuses due to the risk of DUIs and the collisions that come with them. Making them available without any checks or balances invites traffic collisions.

Claims against On-line Sellers

Amazon, eBay, Walmart and others sell escooters. They purport to have a laissez-faire approach to selling. They try to hide behind laws like the Communications Decency Act. This law essentially protects online companies who simply publish others’ content. In these cases, however, the online sellers know or should know of risks certain escooters present. They have access to customers’ reviews or other feedback, for example. They can take steps to protect consumers from risky escooters, but sometimes fail to do so.

Insurance Coverage

Generally, your automotive insurance will not provide any coverage when someone else injuries you while you’re riding an escooter. An injured escooter rider may seek compensation from the other vehicle’s insurer, the scooter manufacturer, or the seller. Insurance may have certain limits of exceptions. Hence it is always good to speak with an attorney.

Defenses to Claims

• Waiver/Disclaimer: historically, eccooter renter Bird had users sign a waiver stating that one agrees to “release indemnify, and hold harmless” the company for any injuries or medical conditions. The enforceability of these waivers is a complex legal issue.

• Assumption of the Risk: An electronic scooter company may argue that the rider assumed the risk of injury. This can arise from the waiver itself, or circumstances of the collision. The defense would be less likely successful if the rider suffered from something unexpected or unreasonable; for example, a defect in the tire or brakes. A rider certainly does not assume the risk of a product defect.

• Contributory Negligence: In states that recognize contributory negligence (which include DC, MD, and VA), if the injured person bringing the lawsuit was even 1% responsible for her injuries, that person may lose the entire claim. This has devastating effects for escooter riders injured by negligent drivers because they are frequently blamed unfairly for accidents between cars and bikes. Again, this is where legal representation becomes important.

What Should You Do After an eScooter Injury?

• Assess the Situation, Get Help: The first thing you want to do is make sure you are okay. Check yourself out and only try to move if it is safe to do so. With serious injuries, do not try to leave the scene on your own. Avoid injuring yourself further. Seek medical treatment for all injuries. Defense lawyers or insurers may argue that your injuries are not real or serious if you do not get treatment.

• Call the Police: There are several reasons to call the police after a bike accident. First, the police will create a report of the crash. Insist that the officer write one, even if you do not initially believe the situation merits it. You never know when it could come in handy, either for insurance purposes or for a legal case in the future. What seems like a straightforward case, even where a party admits fault in the moment, complicates later when stories change and memories fade.

• Gather Witness Information: we always want to speak with anyone else involved in an escooter incident including nearby witnesses. Try to obtain: (1) address and contact information; (2) insurance information; (3) vehicle information, including license plate; and (4) police officers’ names and badge numbers.

• Take Pictures: Take pictures of the scene. These will be helpful in dealing with insurance companies and for your potential claim. Having photographic evidence of the scene can be really helpful to a jury in proving an escooter rider’s case.

• Contact an Attorney: After you have done all of the above, then you can contact an attorney. The most important thing is that you have taken care of your health.