There is a distinctly dark side to the proliferation of electric scooters throughout the U.S. While they are routinely marketed as a cost-effective and environmentally-friendly way to make “last mile” trips that are too far to walk but too short to drive, E-scooters are run by companies with the same attitude towards safety as ridesharing companies like Lyft and Uber – they are only responsible for providing the means to get from A to B, and cannot be held accountable for anything that happens.
That attitude is on display in the E-scooter policies that companies like Bird and Lime force riders to agree to, in order to get on an E-scooter. The waivers that these policies force you to sign can drastically reduce your rights, make it far more difficult to sue an E-scooter company for injuries that they caused and leave you uncompensated.
Extensive Waivers Used by E-Scooter Companies in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania's Department of Transportation (DOT) has an important rule: E-Scooters are deemed “not street-legal” and cannot be ridden on either the streets or the sidewalks. That is why E-scooters have not entered cities in Pennsylvania like Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, or Harrisburg, or college campuses across the state just yet.
However, the DOT is being pressured to revise that rule so cities can make their own decision. Should it ever get overturned and E-scooters begin flooding into Pennsylvania, the E-scooter policies that these E-scooter sharing companies use will impact the daily lives of Pennsylvanians who live near colleges or in urban areas.
Those policies are long, hardly ever read by E-scooter riders, and extremely aggressive at getting riders to waive their rights. Policies used by both Bird and Lime include language that waives a rider's right to sue the company for injuries sustained in situations involving an E-scooter, “whether foreseeable or unforeseeable.” Both also include provisions that even waive a rider's right to sue the company if they get hurt on an E-scooter because the vehicle was damaged or defective. Both also include not just one, but several provisions that serve as “blanket disclaimers,” like Section 1.4.6 of Lime's E-scooter policy, which says: “Lime reserves the right to hold you fully responsible for all damage, losses, claims, and liability arising from your use of any vehicle… without limitation.”
That is Not How Waivers Work in Pennsylvania
Needless to say, if businesses could use waivers that require customers to relinquish all of their rights in order to buy or receive a product or service, all businesses would do just that. The result would be absurd: No one could hold any business accountable for their oversight or poor quality control and people would get terribly hurt all the time, through no fault of their own, and would not be able to do anything about it.
That dystopian result is why Pennsylvania has laws that dictate what can and cannot be waived in a product or service's terms and conditions.
Contract law in Pennsylvania applies to these waivers because they are, in fact, a kind of contract – they outline the legal rights that you retain or forgo and form a part of the bargaining process and eventual agreement that you strike with an E-scooter sharing company. You get to ride their E-scooters, and they get your payment, plus your agreement to abide by the terms and conditions included in their policy.
In Pennsylvania, though, there are limits to the rights that a company can force you to waive through their terms and conditions.
Gross Negligence or Intentional Misconduct
When it comes to E-scooter policies, the most important limitation to the contract's terms and conditions is concerned with conduct that is either grossly negligent, reckless, or actually intentional. In Pennsylvania, no contract can include an agreement by one party to waive their rights to sue after being hurt by the other party's intentional conduct, their recklessness, or their gross negligence.
This exception to the power of a waiver in a contract's terms and conditions is important for E-scooter sharing: When the companies providing the vehicles know that they should be maintaining or inspecting the E-scooters or instructing riders how to use them, but fail to do so, it might rise to the level of gross negligence.
Violations of Public Policy
Contracts that require someone to break the law or do something else that is completely contrary to the public good can be deemed unenforceable, as well. This waiver issue can become implicated in two potential situations.
The first would arise if E-scooter sharing became so ubiquitous that it could be seen as an essential public service. Signing away swaths of your legal rights in order to use such a service would run contrary to public policy, increasing the odds that courts would deem such a waiver unenforceable.
The second deals with helmets. E-scooter sharing companies have designed their vehicles to travel fast enough that falling off would likely lead to serious injuries, including to a rider's head. Yet Lime and Bird do not require riders to wear helmets – in spite of their ability to do so – and expressly absolve liability for injuries that happen when a rider does not wear one. They also know that very few riders wear a helmet while riding their E-scooters, yet have taken no action to keep them safe. Altogether, these factors could mean that the portions of an E-scooter sharing company's policies that deal with helmets could violate Pennsylvania's public policy and be held unenforceable in court.
Philadelphia Personal Injury Lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian
The policies, terms, and conditions that E-scooter companies force you to agree to in order to ride an E-scooter are ambitious and aggressive and aim to insulate E-scooter sharing companies from just about every form of liability imaginable. However, just because E-scooter companies included these waivers in their policies does not mean that they are enforceable – even if you did sign them. There are limits to what companies can do with waivers, and E-scooter sharing companies seem intent on pushing them to the limit.
If you get hurt while riding an E-scooter and want to recover compensation and hold the company accountable, reach out to the personal injury lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian in Philadelphia by contacting them online.