In October 2018, a lawsuit was filed in the Los Angeles County Superior Court, targeting several members of the electric scooter industry. Nine initial plaintiffs allege that the negligence of e-scooter rental operators has been “endangering the health, safety, and welfare of riders, pedestrians and the general public.”
The plaintiffs allege that industry practices at the manufacturing and rental operator level have contributed to serious injuries suffered by the seven plaintiffs party to the cases. Two of the largest scooter operators in the country, Lime and Bird, have been named in the class action lawsuit, as well as Chinese manufacturers Xiaomi and Segway.
It’s the latest piece of evidence of a wave in anti-scooter sentiment building throughout the United States. E-scooter rental start-ups have exploded in number, fueled by billions of dollars supplied by venture capitalists eager to take advantage of growing traffic and environmental concerns surrounding the traditional vehicles filling our roads.
Thousands of Americans have taken to renting electric vehicles for their daily commute and transportation needs. Unfortunately, the ride has not been a particularly smooth one, with accidents caused by careless riders and defective e-scooters on the rise.
E-scooter rental companies are accused of having “aided and abetted assault,” in addition to overall negligence in e-scooter safety.
Three plaintiffs tripped over scooters lying on public walkways, reflecting a concern held by many critics of e-scooter rentals. The unwanted clutter caused by abandoned scooters was mockingly illustrated by a Twitter user’s unflattering picture comparing a ‘flock’ of e-scooters to Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds.’
Three of the victims were pedestrians that scooter riders crashed into. One of these plaintiffs was injured in July 2018 after a scooter rider barreled into them, suffering damage to eight teeth.
The lawsuit demonstrates that scooter riders themselves are also at risk. One of the injured plaintiffs was riding a rental e-scooter that suffered from mechanical failure, with the accelerator locking up and causing the rider to lose control. While the rider survived their injuries, two other riders this year were less fortunate.
Two plaintiffs have not suffered injuries. One alleges that their car was damaged when a scooter rider crashed into their vehicle. The other is handicapped, and states that she was repeatedly prevented from parking in handicapped parking spots due to scooters being dumped in the spots.
The class action lawsuit claims that e-scooter operators were aware of the risks posed by the vehicles, but through “gross negligence” failed to prevent the accidents. These risks have also been heightened by California legislation passed in September, which allows riders to operate scooters without a helmet, and gives cities the authority to allow riders to travel at speeds of up to 35 mph on city streets.
Rental agreements by companies such as Lime place responsibility for accidents on the riders themselves, something the filers of the class action lawsuit intend to challenge.
Scooter manufacturers are also targeted by the lawsuit, with complaints being raised about the quality and capability of their products.
Numerous complaints of mechanical failure have emerged, with riders describing loss of throttle control, defective brakes, and even collapsing handle bar posts while riding e-scooters. Another major concern for electric vehicles are the batteries they use. Lime was forced to recall 2,000 scooters deployed in San Diego, Lake Tahoe, and Los Angeles after discovering that the lithium ion batteries were susceptible to combustion. This comes after an August incident where a battery fire started at Lime’s Lake Tahoe facility. Lime’s scooters are manufactured by Segway-Ninebot, one of the companies named in the class action lawsuit.
Another concern raised in the suit is the overall durability of the scooters. Mechanical defects aside, the rental electric scooters in use are consumer-grade models, which may not be rugged enough to deal with the regular wear and tear a rental vehicle could expect to see over the course of its life. Rough treatment could cause or exacerbate existing problems with a scooter, but a more robust design could theoretically withstand more abuse. The lawsuit alleges that scooter operators were fully aware of these deficiencies but chose to employ these specific models anyway.
Both Lime and Bird have released rebuttals to the lawsuit and its various claims, saying that despite the occurrences of scooter accidents, they remain a far safer and cleaner form of transportation compared to traditional motor vehicles.
While pedestrians remain vulnerable, there are steps e-scooter riders can take to protect themselves right now.
If the lawsuit’s allegation can be proven in court, the multi-billion-dollar industry could face significant push-back in US markets.
Until a verdict is handed down over this lawsuit, Lime, Bird, and other e-scooter rental companies will likely continue their aggressive expansion throughout the US. If trends hold, more people will continue to adopt scooters for their daily commutes. As such, there are some ways to protect yourself, physically and legally.
- Wear a helmet – While California law currently does not require e-scooter riders to wear helmets, one should be worn anyway. Even if you aren’t going to be driving in traffic on city streets, a helmet can protect your head in the event of an accident. They can also help in the event of a court case stemming from an accident. Insurance companies can and will use your decision to not wear a helmet against you, which can affect your compensation.
- Test your rental e-scooter before your ride – If your scooter’s brakes or accelerator do not feel responsive, or the collapsing handle bar refuses to stay upright, consider finding another scooter. Again, in the event of an accident, even if there was a mechanical issue responsible for it, your decision to ride a vehicle you knew was defective can affect your claims.
- Avoid traffic – California law accommodates e-scooters and bikes on roads alongside regular vehicle traffic, with restrictions. Just because it’s allowed does not make it safe. Much like other small one-person vehicles, e-scooters can be easy for drivers in larger vehicles to not see until it is too late. Avoid placing yourself in situations where you could be clipped by other traffic while you’re making a legal turn in the middle of the street.
- Don’t ride near or among pedestrians – Most rental agreements make you the responsible party for any e-scooter accident. It’s easy to underestimate how much damage you can do to a pedestrian by crashing into them while at full speed on a scooter. Avoid this risk by avoiding foot traffic altogether. If you do have to ride near people, slow down.
This blog is not meant to dispense legal advice and is not a comprehensive review of the facts, the law, this topic or cases related to the topic.