Electric Scooter Accidents Continue to Increase, Who is to Blame?
Injuries from electric scooters, via scooter sharing services, have skyrocketed with the growing rates of use. But who is really liable for the increase in accidents and subsequent lawsuits?
Electric Scooter Accidents Continue to Increase, Who is to Blame?
It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s…an overly confident guy recklessly driving a motorized scooter? Sure, it doesn’t have the same ring to it, but it is something we have all witnessed. If I am honest, I may have personally been the culprit a few times. This influx of electric scooters whizzing around larger cities, and slowly making its way to smaller cities, has come about over the last few years and has gathered a lot of attention.
Noticing a demand for more affordable “micromobility” options, companies such as Bird and Lime introduced pay-as-you-go type electric scooters. Simply enter your credit card and take a photo of your driver's license and off you go down the road. Swerving through traffic at 15 MPH with no helmet, no experience riding these scooters and navigating densely populated urban roads and walkways, it doesn’t take much forethought to think of some potential negative outcomes.
Obviously, with the amount of use and popularity the scooters have had, there is an argument for their continued existence in cities across the U.S. Along with the overwhelming excitement there has come an equally enthusiastic backlash against them, motivated mainly by concerns for public safety and lack of state and city regulations in place. Of course, this polemic response has brought with it an onslaught of legal battles and has left lawmakers scrambling to enact regulations for the various e-scooter sharing services.
Since these companies have launched their e-scooter sharing services, there have been a number of accidents involving e-scooters as well as a wide range of regulations enacted. Some cities have banned the services completely, some cities have left the companies completely unrestricted, and some have begun more flexible approaches by working with the companies to find a happy medium.
Who Is Liable?
At the center of all the legal issues lies the question: who is liable? Are the companies liable for their reckless abandon of putting unsafe products in the hands of consumers without establishing the appropriate safety precautions? Are consumers, who agree to the “terms & conditions” without reading them to be blamed for the accidents caused? Are city and state officials at fault for not having the suitable safety regulations in place before the companies release the e-scooters in cities? Taking a look at each individually will give us a good survey of the situation.
Are Regulators Liable?
The litigation that has followed the accidents has spread out across the city/state, the companies and the riders. City regulators in Santa Monica, Los Angeles and Beverly Hills are currently facing a class action lawsuit for giving these scooter sharing services a green light. The plaintiffs, qualified disabled residents of those cities, have claimed that the presence of e-scooters has negatively affected their ability to move about public spaces. They have cited that the city, and involved companies, are violating the Americans with Disabilities Act in a “deliberate and systematic exploitation of the curb, ramps, sidewalks, crosswalks, pedestrian crossings and other walkways.” It adds that the rise of these scooter sharing services, “through exploitation of public property for corporate profit, comes at the injury, suffering, discomfort, discrimination, humiliation, anxiety, severe detriment and prejudice of the rights of the tens of thousands of disabled persons with mobility and/or visual impairments who are residents and visitors of the Cities.”
It is still early in this case and other similar cases to know how they will turn out, but the defendants show no signs of looking to settle the case. Instead they believe they have a strong defense against the allegations and will look to prove their innocence. If they can prove that they took the necessary time considering the safety and public policy concerns before approving regulations, they may be shielded by sovereign immunity. These are important initial cases as they may set a precedent for how future cases may turn out.
Are Companies Liable?
Of course, the companies responsible for the scooter sharing services are the primary focus of the majority of the lawsuits surrounding e-scooter issues. What waits to be seen is how well the terms & conditions agreements signed by consenting users will shelter them from the legal fallout. In order to ride the scooters, companies force every rider to agree to the user agreement and terms of service as well as attest to the age requirement (18 in most cities), have a legal drivers license, and agree to follow the local traffic laws and pedestrian safety regulations.
While the agreements do, in theory, protect the companies from a lot of legal disputes, should that release companies from the widespread effects their products are having on cities? Barry Salzman, a senior partner at Barasch, McGarry, Salzman & Penson states that, “User agreements typically run 15,000 to 20,000 words, so let's be honest, most people are not reading these agreements. So if people aren’t reading them, they’re not really understanding what they’re agreeing to or bound to.” He continues, “Nor do many of these users understand the dangers associated with some of these e-scooters. If [the companies responsible] really want to see an increase in their use and success, they really need to work with the users and the regulatory agencies to make the entire process safer.”
Salzman makes a great argument. At what point do the companies still need to be involved in making sure their products are used in a safe and regulated manner? With the analytical power to see how little time is actually spent reading their bombastic terms & conditions, they are aware of how little of their user agreements are actually read. But many questions remain about the user agreements and if the courts find them to be overly broad and thus unenforceable.
Are Users Liable?
Personally, this question is easiest to answer. Yes, users are absolutely responsible for not adhering to local laws and public safety regulations that are in place to protect residents and mitigate the accidents and resulting damages. That being said, there is still so much to be considered on what share of the responsibility should be placed upon the user. Until some of the previously mentioned cases are resolved, it is difficult to tell how much the users should bare the onus for the incidents.
Ultimately, what is at the center of the question of liability is the safety of users and the general public. With a number of fatal injuries involving e-scooters and countless more that have caused serious injuries, it is important to resolve these questions. Once the questions are answered, changes can be implemented that will better serve the public and boost public safety while still enjoying the benefits of affordable and sustainable micro-mobility. Until then, make sure you are aware of areas that are densely populated with e-scooter riders and take extra safety precautions when necessary.
If you came across this blog because you were involved in an e-scooter accident, or know someone who has, we would love to help in anyway we can. Fill out this form for a free review of your case.