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Do pedestrians have a case against e-scooters?

Posted by Neil Shouse | Sep 21, 2019 | 0 Comments

lime scooter in los angeles

You likely have a personal injury case if you were a pedestrian and you were struck and hurt by an electric scooter, or E-scooter. In most E-scooter accidents it is easy to show that the rider was at fault.

Collecting compensation, though, is much more difficult. The rider is rarely insured and often judgment proof. Getting the E-scooter company to pay is tricky. You often have to rely on your own insurance.

Pedestrians often the victim of E-scooter accidents

E-scooter sharing has been linked to huge upticks in injuries and emergency room visits.1 Most of the injuries are suffered by the rider of the E-scooter.2 It is when pedestrians get hurt, though, that the law takes notice. Pedestrians are nearly always blameless victims who get hurt because an E-scooter rider put them at risk.

Establishing liability is rarely a problem

When pedestrians get hurt by an E-scooter, the scooter rider is almost always at fault. This is especially true in jurisdictions that forbid E-scooter riding on the sidewalk.

California is one such state. Traffic laws forbid E-scooters from riding on the sidewalk, unless they are getting to or from the street.3 California law also includes most crosswalks as a part of the sidewalk.4

If pedestrians get hit by an E-scooter on the sidewalk, the E-scooter rider was likely negligent per se. They were violating the local traffic laws that were designed to protect the very people who got hurt.

Therefore, you likely have a case if you were a pedestrian and were hurt by an E-scooter.

Collecting compensation can be difficult

Unfortunately, having a strong case and collecting compensation are two different things. Collecting the compensation you deserve can be hard.

In accidents that result from negligence, insurance companies often get implicated. These companies exist to cover the costs of accidents.

However, insurance companies only cover accidents that fall within their insurance policies. E-scooter accidents tend to fall between coverage offered by car insurance and homeowner's insurance:

  • Car insurance tends to only cover vehicles with 4 wheels. E-scooters only have 2.
  • Motorcycle insurance usually only covers 2-wheeled vehicles with large motors. E-scooters only have small motors.
  • Homeowner's insurance only covers non-motorized accidents, like those on a regular bike. The motor on an E-scooter usually makes it uncovered.

As a result, one study found that 90% of riders in moped and E-scooter accidents were uninsured.5

Without insurance to cover the costs of the accident, the E-scooter rider can be held personally liable. This means they can be held responsible for the costs of a crash. They would have to pay out of their own pocket.

The odds that an E-scooter rider has the means to pay are very slim. Most E-scooter riders are young.6 These people have not yet had the time to build up the assets that could cover the costs of an accident.

Uninsured motorist coverage could help

Hurt pedestrians who have car insurance that includes uninsured motorist coverage might recover that way.

However, different car insurance companies treat E-scooter accidents differently. Some companies will cover uninsured E-scooter riders. Others will not. The details of your insurance policy matter.

Holding E-scooter sharing companies responsible

Holding an E-scooter sharing company liable for your injuries has proven difficult. Their terms of use disclaim liability and put it on their riders.

Most E-scooter rides are taken on E-scooter sharing vehicles. These are provided by companies like Lime or Bird. To use a Lime or Bird E-scooter, riders have to agree to the company's terms of use.

The terms of use form a binding contract between the company and the E-scooter rider. Most riders do not read it, though. It is often dozens of pages long.

Several sections in the terms of use disclaim the E-scooter company's liability for accidents. Riders have to agree to cover the costs of accidents they cause. They have to agree to not blame the E-scooter company.

When a pedestrian gets hurt by an E-scooter rider on a shared vehicle, the E-scooter sharing company will point to the terms of use. They argue that the rider has assumed responsibility for the crash.

Overcoming the terms of use is tricky. Victims have argued that the E-scooter company should be held liable for:

  • Not adequately training riders, or
  • Allowing E-scooters to be illegally driven on sidewalks.

So far, none of these claims have prevailed in court. Many are still pending, though.


References:

  1. See, e.g., Bresler A, Hanba C, Svider P, et al., “Craniofacial injuries related to motorized scooter use: A rising epidemic,” American Journal of Otolaryngology 40(5):662-6 (September-October 2019).

  2. See Janet Lorin, “Electric-scooter injuries pile up, but making the lawsuits stick is hard,” Los Angeles Times (January 25, 2019).

  3. California Vehicle Code § 21235(g).

  4. California Vehicle Code § 275.

  5. Miggins M, Lottenberg L, Liu H, et al., “Mopeds and Scooters: Crash Outcomes in a High Traffic State,” Journal of Trauma 71(1):217-22 (July 2011).

  6. See Austin Public Health, “Dockless Electric Scooter-Related Injuries Study,” (April 2019) (48% of injured E-scooter riders were aged 18-29).

About the Author

Neil Shouse

A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, Court TV, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.

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