The goal of electric scooter companies like Bird or Lime is admirable: decongest traffic, reduce pollution, and give people access to relatively inexpensive transportation for short distance travel. However, as with many novel business ideas, there are dark sides to providing electric scooter rides. Many of those problems are fairly obvious, including the potential for people to get hurt when scooters break and cause a crash, or when the rider is incapable of controlling their scooter and ends up hitting someone. Does insurance cover the costs of the accident? Is the scooter company liable for the incident when the rider was too inexperienced?
The personal injury lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian explore the problems that come with electric scooter accidents in Maryland.
The Electric Scooter Business Model
Electric scooter companies, led by Bird and Lime, aim to provide an alternative solution for so-called “last mile trips” – those that are too short to drive but are also a significant walk. Similar to bike-sharing programs, Bird and Lime provide electric scooters for people to use for these trips. Riders can sign up for the program on a smartphone application, where they pay the flat rental fee and the per-minute surcharge for their ride.
Unlike bike-sharing programs, though, electric scooters are “dockless” – riders can leave them wherever they want after taking a trip rather than being forced to bring them to a designated drop-off point. Subsequent riders find scooters that have been left in their area by looking at the map on the smartphone app.
The scooters get charged by local residents employed by the scooter company. They collect as many scooters they can find, charge them overnight using the equipment provided by the company, and return them to designated areas for their first rider of the day. These “chargers” are paid based on how many scooters they charge in a night.
The Dangers of Electric Scooters
Unfortunately, there are a lot of potential problems associated with this business model. Scooters are not regularly maintained or fixed in a structured way, allowing defective or broken scooters to get into the hands of riders where they can hurt people. Where people leave their scooters after taking a trip on them can put others at risk if they obstruct traffic. While the scooter companies provide helmets, free of charge, for riders and require them to abide by the rules of the road, people are largely left to their own devices for their safety. To complicate matters and make things confusing for riders, scooters are an alternative form of travel so the rules that dictate where riders can take their scooters are blurry: while Bird insists that riders keep to bike lanes while riding a scooter, the vast majority of riders seem to think that they can dominate the sidewalks.
Throughout, a rider's inexperience or recklessness can lead to them losing control of their scooter and endangering themselves and others, or simply hitting someone that they did not see on the sidewalk.
The potential for a scooter accident is significant. When someone gets hurt, they should be compensated for their losses. Unfortunately, the way electric scooters work in Maryland, this can often be an uphill battle.
Accidents Caused by Reckless or Negligent Scooter Riders
The vast majority of accidents involving electric scooters are caused by riders who do not know the rules of the road or who behave recklessly while on their scooter. When pedestrians are hit by scooters blazing by on the sidewalk, the electric scooter companies are going to try to insulate themselves from liability for the accident by pushing responsibility to the rider for breaking their policies about where to ride. Meanwhile, the rider's insurance company might refuse to cover the costs of the accident because the rider was using a vehicle that falls outside the realm of the insurance company's policy. If both the scooter and the insurance company are successful, the rider could be the only one left to pay for your losses and injuries – something they are rarely going to be able to do.
The precise insurance implications of a scooter accident depend on the local regulations of the city. For example, when Bird and Lime first entered Baltimore for a pilot program, Baltimore required them to have insurance of $1 million to cover accidents. However, the details of that coverage make a huge difference in individual cases and can even be meaningless if the coverage only triggers when a scooter rider is abiding by all of the safety guidelines.
Accidents Caused by Defective Electric Scooters
When electric scooters are broken or defective, and those problems turn out to be the ultimate cause of an electric scooter accident, it would seem like a products liability claim against the scooter company would be the obvious solution. However, the scooter company can try to deflect liability to the scooter manufacturer if the crash was caused by a defect, or to the person responsible for charging the scooter if the crash was caused by a maintenance problem.
Practical Concerns of Electric Scooter Accidents
Finally, there are practical concerns that surround accidents involving electric scooters. Pedestrians who get hit by an electric scooter can find themselves in a difficult spot if the scooter rider leaves the scene, especially if there was no one else there to corroborate the victim's description of the accident. Tracking down who was responsible for the crash can be difficult without extensive investigation and the assistance of the electric scooter sharing company like Bird or Lime – something they are likely to drag their feet over because it would mean throwing one of their customers under the bus.
Gilman & Bedigian Represent People Injured in Electric Scooter Accidents
The personal injury lawyers at the Maryland law offices of Gilman & Bedigian understand the complexities surrounding electric scooter accidents and can provide solid legal representation to people who have been hit and hurt by electric scooters in Maryland. Our attorneys can investigate accidents to bring the responsible parties to the table and can represent victims in court if that is what it takes to force the culpable parties to pay the compensation they should be paying. Contact us online to get started on your case.