An electric scooter (Bird or Lime) accident lawsuit is a legal claim by a person injured from the use of a scooter. They are most often the result of someone's negligence. However, they can also be the result of someone's intentional conduct. Victims can suffer serious injuries that entitle them to compensation for:
- Medical expenses,
- Lost wages and other professional consequences like a reduced earning capacity, and
- Pain and suffering.
The California personal injury lawyers at the Shouse Law Office strive to represent people who have been hurt in a scooter accident. In this article, they discuss:
- 1. What are scooters and E-scooters?
- 1.1 The rise of E-scooter sharing
- 1.2 E-scooter sharing companies
- 1.3 Lack of regulations for E-scooters
- 2. E-scooter accidents
- 2.1 Accidents involving only an E-scooter rider
- 2.2 Accidents between E-scooters and pedestrians
- 2.3 Accidents between E-scooters and cars
- 2.4 E-scooters tripping pedestrians
- 3. The role of user agreements in E-scooter accidents
- 4. E-scooter accident injuries
- 5. Compensation for E-scooter accident injuries
1. What are scooters and E-scooters?
Scooters are two-wheeled devices with a flat platform between the wheels. People stand on this board and can propel themselves by kicking on the ground.
E-scooters, however, are scooters that are propelled by an electric motor. Not only do they move without the rider kicking it forward, E-scooters can also go much faster than normal scooters – some of them can go up to 15 miles per hour.
1.1 The rise of E-scooter sharing
E-scooters have become incredibly popular in the last few years as a form of shared transportation that can be used for “last mile rides” – those that are too far to walk but not far enough to drive.
Riders can rent an E-scooter, often for as little as a dollar plus mileage, through a smartphone app. Once at their destination, riders can end their rental period and leave the scooter at their destination. Because the wheels of the E-scooter lock when the scooter has not been rented, E-scooters do not have to be docked in special locations like shared bikes do.
1.2 E-scooter sharing companies
Several E-scooter sharing companies have instigated and capitalized on this demand for rentable electric scooters. Some of the bigger companies providing smartphone apps and rentable E-scooters are:
- Lyft, and
These companies have stirred controversy by dropping off hundreds of E-scooters in a city with little warning to local officials. In many cases, cities have no traffic rules or regulations in place for E-scooters, which frequently fall outside the definition of bikes, cars, and motorcycles. As a result, locals rent and ride E-scooters with no rules to dictate where they can and cannot go, putting themselves and others in danger.1
Some cities, including Los Angeles, have even temporarily banned E-scooters while lawmakers work to lay down regulations.2 Other cities have sent cease-and-desist letters to E-scooter sharing companies who have dropped the devices within city limits without talking to local officials, first.3
1.3 Lack of regulations for E-scooters
One of the most controversial aspects of E-scooters has to do with the lack of regulations that govern how riders can use them.
Traffic laws governing non-traditional forms of transportation – like E-scooters – are frequently left to local governments. This means one city can require E-scooter riders to stay on the sidewalk, while another city can require them to stay on the street. The confusion can cause serious accidents that leave innocent people hurt.
2. E-scooter accidents
As E-scooters have become popular, the number of accidents involving an E-scooter has skyrocketed as well. In each city that has been inundated with E-scooters, hospitals noted a sharp rise in the number of patients visiting their emergency rooms.4
These E-scooter accidents can happen in a wide variety of ways. However, they can all be put into four categories:
- A single-party accident that leaves the E-scooter rider hurt and no one else affected,
- A collision between an E-scooter and a pedestrian,
- A collision between an E-scooter and a car, and
- A pedestrian tripping and falling over an E-scooter.
2.1 Accidents involving only an E-scooter rider
Many E-scooter accidents are single-vehicle crashes that happen when the rider loses control of the vehicle.
In many of these cases, the rider's inexperience contributes to the crash. One study commissioned by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to cover E-scooter crashes in Austin, Texas, found that 33% of riders were hurt on their very first E-scooter ride.5
However, not all of these accidents are the rider's fault. In some cases, single-vehicle E-scooter crashes can happen when a rider is driving safely, but hits a bump in the road or a sudden rough patch of sidewalk that makes them lose control and fall.
Example: Clara is riding an E-scooter slowly on the sidewalk, where she is supposed to ride. Ahead, there is a sharp drop between the blocks of the sidewalk. She does not see the drop, and the sudden fall makes her lose her balance and veer into the side of a building. Because she was hurt by a poorly-maintained sidewalk, the municipality could be held liable for her injuries.
In other cases, the E-scooter itself may have caused the crash. In early 2019, a rash of seemingly unforced accidents was connected to defective E-scooters provided by the E-scooter sharing company Lime. In those incidents, the brakes on E-scooters traveling at full speed were being applied without the rider's touch, causing some serious injuries.6
2.2 Accidents between E-scooters and pedestrians
Accidents between E-scooters and pedestrians have gotten the most attention because of the distaste that walkers have for E-scooters being driven on the sidewalk.
Crashes between an E-scooter and a pedestrian can be severe because of how vulnerable pedestrians are, especially when they are hit from behind. However, not all of these accidents are the E-scooter rider's fault.
Example: Paul is riding an E-scooter on the sidewalk, where he is supposed to be. However, he is riding at 15 miles per hour, which is too fast for the lightly crowded sidewalk. Mary is leaving a coffee shop and as she opens the door and steps into the sidewalk, she gets hit by Paul because he has no time to stop or change direction. Paul will likely be held liable for the accident.
Example: George is crossing the street. He looks both ways for cars, but does not notice Tom approaching on an E-scooter in the bike lane, where he is supposed to be. When George steps out into the street, Tom crashes into him. George may be held liable because he did not see Tom.
2.3 Accidents between E-scooters and cars
While relatively rare, accidents between E-scooters and cars are often the most severe. The weight of the cars and the vulnerability of an E-scooter rider often mean that the rider will suffer serious injuries.
One particularly common scenario is when a car “doors” an oncoming E-scooter. Many cities require E-scooters to be driven in bike lanes or on the far right side of a street. Car drivers who have parked on the side of the street often fail to check their side mirror before opening their car door. If they open their car door suddenly and an E-scooter rider is just about to pass, the driver could be held liable for the accident.
2.4 E-scooters tripping pedestrians
One of the reasons why shared E-scooters have become so popular is that they are “dockless” and can be left anywhere. As E-scooter riders reach their destination and discard their ride, they frequently leave the E-scooter in a place that can inconvenience others or trip them as they pass by.
Pedestrians who get hurt after tripping and falling could be entitled to compensation from one of a variety of different people, depending on the details of what happened:
- The E-scooter driver who left the vehicle for the victim to trip on,
- The E-scooter company, if the vehicle had been left there for an overly-long time,
- The owner of the premises, if the vehicle was left on private property, or
- The city, if they have assumed the responsibility of removing discarded E-scooters.
3. The role of user agreements in E-scooter accidents
A key component in determining who was liable for an E-scooter accident – and therefore who should pay compensation for the injuries it caused – are the user agreements that E-scooter sharing companies require riders to sign before they can rent an E-scooter. These user agreements are binding contracts between the rider and the E-scooter sharing company, and go to great lengths to waive the company's liability for a crash.
E-scooter sharing companies use these agreements to disclaim responsibility for accidents and pin liability onto the rider to the fullest extent possible. For example, Lime's user agreement7:
- Requires riders to abide by all traffic laws, but does not specify what they are or how to do so,8
- Makes riders claim that they are “familiar” and “reasonably competent and physically fit” to drive an E-scooter before they are allowed to take their first ride,9 and
- Requires riders to perform an extensive safety inspection before riding, and disclaims liability if the E-scooter was defective.10
E-scooter sharing companies also write their user agreements in ways that ensure no rider will read them before renting an E-scooter. For example, Lime's user agreement is 53 pages long.11
Breaking any of the provisions in these agreements, though, can be used by the E-scooter company as an argument that they should not be held liable for injuries sustained in an E-scooter accident.
4. E-scooter accident injuries
The injuries that frequently occur in an E-scooter accident are shockingly severe, especially when the E-scooter rider was hurt and was not wearing a helmet.
According to one medical study, which examined 249 patients who went to an emergency room for an accident while riding an E-scooter over a one-year period, head injuries where the most common12:
Fractures and Broken Bones
Soft Tissue Injuries
That study found that only 4.4% of riders were documented as wearing a helmet at the time of the crash.
The study by the CDC also tracked injuries sustained by E-scooter riders. Out of the 190 injured E-scooter riders in their study, nearly half had a severe injury, including:
- 48% had fractures, lacerations, or abrasions to the head,
- 35% broke a bone other than then nose, fingers, or toes,
- 19% had multiple fractures, and
- 3% had skull fractures.
5. Compensation for E-scooter accident injuries
Victims who have suffered one of these injuries in an E-scooter accident deserve compensatory damages for their:
- Medical expenses, both in the past and anticipated in the future,
- Lost wages or income during the recovery process,
- Reduced earning capacity or ability to earn a living in the future,
- Pain and suffering, and
- Loss of companionship suffered by the victim's family.
See e.g., Christina Araviakis, “Birds Take Flight in Baltimore: The City's Attempt to Regulate the New Electric Scooters,” University of Baltimore Law Review (December 7, 2018).
Laura J. Nelson, “L.A. Officials Moved to Ban Rental Scooters in March. So Why are They Everywhere?” Los Angeles Times (August 16, 2018).
See e.g., Brianna Calix, “City of Fresno Issues Cease-and-Desist Letter to Bird Scooter Company,” The Fresno Bee (September 7, 2018); Rob Wile, “Scooter Companies Pulling Out of Miami Just Weeks After Making Their Debut,” The Miami Herald (June 21, 2018).
See e.g., Mary Wisniewski, “Watch Out! Cities With Electric Scooters Have Seen Hundreds of Injuries, from Broken Arms to Brain Trauma,” Chicago Tribune (May 13, 2019).
“Dockless Electric Scooter-Related Injuries Study – Austin, Texas, September-November 2018,” Austin Public Health (April, 2019).
Peter Holley, “Lime Scooter Riders are Being Injured by ‘Sudden Excessive Braking,' Company Says,” The Washington Post (February 25, 2019).
Note 7 at Section 1.4.3.
Note 7 at Section 1.5.
Note 7 at Section 12.1 and Section 6.2.7.
See note 7.
Trivedi TK, Liu C, Antonio ALM, et al., “Injuries Associated With Standing Electric Scooter Use,” Journal of the American Medical Association 2(1):e187381 (January 25, 2019).