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E-Scooters and Crash Liability: Who Pays if You’re Hurt?

Posted by Scot D. Goldberg | Sep 30, 2019 | 0 Comments

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Although they may not be used around Lee County – yet – it likely won't be long before we start to see e-scooters being used for transportation around town and in hot spots like Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel.

E-scooters, already being used in some larger Florida cities like Miami, are small, electric 2-wheeled scooters that resemble a skateboard, but with handlebars and an electric motor. The concept behind them is to provide inexpensive, accessible transportation around town. There are a few start-up firms that offer the scooters to rent via an app on your phone, like Lime, Jump and Bird. You simply look on the app for available scooters, pay by taking a photo of the bar code on the handlebars and off you go.

The appeal is primarily for people who want to travel a relatively short distance without the hassle of driving or finding a parking spot. E-scooters are left in populated and busy parts of town, and you simply take one to where you're going, just leave it there, and the app charges your credit card.

But as trendy and eco-friendly as they sound, there are some potential problems when someone has a crash while riding an e-scooter when it comes to determining who should be held liable for their injuries. And, not all cities are welcoming e-scooters with open arms. Nashville's mayor is trying to ban them altogether, and Washington, D.C. officials want them banned at nighttime, limit their top speed and recommended a 24-hour complaint line where people can call in to report issues regarding e-scooters.

The city of Fort Lauderdale, which at first did see the use of e-scooters as a benefit to residents and visitors when companies began placing them around the city in November of 2018, banned them from use on the barrier island beach areas for the summer of 2019. What was first intended as a way to ease traffic congestion has now come under scrutiny because of a high number of crashes and 1 death involving e-scooters in Fort Lauderdale.

There are 2 e-scooter crash victims currently in a vegetative state in Fort Lauderdale hospitals with fractured skulls after being hit by cars.

In December 2018, a real estate attorney was riding an e-scooter in downtown Fort Lauderdale when he was struck by a pickup truck. He was legally crossing Federal Highway at a stoplight, but the truck tried to make a right turn and hit him before he safely made it all the way across. He suffered multiple broken bones and has required at least 2 surgeries so far.

There have been 74 crashes and one fatality between December 2018 and April 2019 just in Fort Lauderdale. 57 of those people ended up in the hospital, and 10 had severe injuries. The city is currently considering new laws that govern the e-scooters, like mandatory helmet use, restrictions on using the full roadway, stepped-up educational awareness and fewer scooters on the streets.

Nationwide, a study conducted by Consumer Reports shows that since the fall of 2017, at least 8 people have died while riding a rented e-scooter, and 1,500 more suffered injuries. Some of those injuries left the victims paralyzed. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that crashes involving mopeds and e-scooters are responsible for more than 20% of all traumatic brain injuries.

Florida's Governor DeSantis just signed a new law in June 2019 that legalized motorized scooters on Florida roads, calling for them to be considered just like bicycles and allowing them to travel in existing bike lanes.

But just because they're legal doesn't mean e-scooters are universally loved.

An Unsightly Nuisance That “Just Don't Mix with Cars or Pedestrians”

Fort Lauderdale is just one of the cities whose citizens – plus some government and law enforcement officials – aren't pleased with having e-scooters in their towns. People are upset that the scooters, also known as “dockless transportation” because they aren't required to be kept in any kind of charging station or stationary kiosk, are trashing up the sidewalks where people just dump them when they get where they're going. Business owners complain of piles of scooters blocking the sidewalk and access to their doors. Scooters are also just dumped in residential yards and other private property – until someone comes along and takes it for another ride. Others complain of nearly being run down while walking in Fort Lauderdale, calling e-scooters very dangerous.

Another major issue involving rental e-scooters involves liability in the event of a crash. When you agree to rent a scooter using a company's phone app, you are agreeing to hold the company harmless if a rider is hurt in a crash. And you won't be able to rely on your car insurance, either, if you are hit on an e-scooter, because most auto insurance policies do not include coverage of a 2-wheeled vehicle. People who anticipate using an e-scooter on a regular basis should ask their insurance agent about specific scooter coverage to protect them, or consider an umbrella policy, which is meant to cover you for instances not covered by more standard auto or homeowners insurance policies. 

“Someone hurt while riding an e-scooter will likely find it very difficult to get compensation,” says Southwest Florida personal injury attorney Scot Goldberg. “And it's not just that they're running the risk of being hit, but e-scooters and the companies that rent them are not required to follow any maintenance or safety regulations, so with dozens of people renting the same scooter during the course of the day, you never really know if that scooter is functioning like it was intended.”

There have been many reported incidents of e-scooter crash injuries based on the scooter not functioning properly. Riders have reported the braking mechanism locking up, loose hand controls or handlebars, broken wheels and other mechanical failures. Unlike a car in a rental car fleet, there's no one to check and properly service the scooter after each use to keep it safe. An e-scooter is just left somewhere until the next person comes along to use it.

The e-scooter industry has rules and restrictions in their rental agreements that are designed to protect the scooter companies from any liability in the event of a crash. But, not everyone follows the rules when agreeing to an e-scooter rental agreement.  

You're supposed to be a lawfully registered driver's license holder over the age of 18, but the safety requirements are based on “the honor system,” as one Sand Diego attorney put it. There is nothing stopping a person who legally rents an e-scooter from letting a 12-year old take it for a spin. (Well, except for the legalese in the fine print, but some aren't paying any attention to that.) And to be candid, many e-scooter crashes involve underage operators who were not following applicable traffic or safety laws or were using them in an unsafe or unlawful way.

“The scooter rental companies skirt any liability by offering safety instruction videos on their websites, and when you check that box that says you've read their agreement or agree that you watched the video on riding one safely, you're agreeing that you won't hold them responsible for any of your injuries,” attorney Goldberg says.

On Sunday, September 29th, the television show CBS Sunday Morning ran a story on e-scooters, and the segment featured interviews with people on both sides of the issues surrounding the trendy, eco-conscious transportation. One of the scooter industry's leading developers was quoted as saying, “Scooters put you out in the world.”

Unfortunately, that is precisely the problem. Until cities learn what to do to correctly regulate the use of rentable e-scooters in areas that are already packed with cars and pedestrians, we believe you will see an increase in serious injury accidents.

The Goldberg Noone Law Firm has been successfully fighting for the rights of injury victims for twenty years. We handle all types of injury cases throughout Florida, and our attorneys are always available to speak to you at no cost to answer your specific questions. If you or someone you know has suffered an injury as the result of another person's negligence or carelessness, we invite you to call us at 239-461-5508, or complete the form on the right side of this page. We'll contact you immediately.   

About the Author

Scot D. Goldberg

Scot Goldberg is a founding partner of the Goldberg Law Firm. See his attorney profile for more information.


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