E-Scooter Liability: To Scoot or not to Scoot

If you have been to major cities around the United States — including Austin, Santa Monica, Nashville, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C. — you may have noticed people zipping around on dockless, electric, rental scooters. Bird and Lime are the two big names in the rental scooter industry, and their business models see riders paying a base price per rental along with a price per minute the scooters are in use.

These electric scooters are the latest trend in what is known as “micro mobility,” and have become a popular mode of transportation in major cities and other congested areas. With speeds of up to 20 miles per hour, these little scooters can get travelers from one side of town to the next relatively quickly — and they are fun to use.

E-Scooters may Soon be Coming to Pennsylvania

e-scooter parking

Currently, electric scooters are banned from use on public roads in the State of Pennsylvania. And since they rely on a motor, sidewalks are a no-go as well. But all that may change soon. Pennsylvania is considering a law which would allow electric scooters within the Commonwealth. This would be a big deal for cities like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and even congested areas like State College and other university campuses.

However, Philadelphia has plans to pass its own e-scooter ban if the Commonwealth allows them. And frankly, many university campuses probably would as well. The reason is that while e-scooters may be a fun way to get around town, they also come with a whole host of other issues. How will e-scooters mesh with all the other forms of traffic already on our roads? Will they end up making traffic even worse? And most importantly, what about scooter liability claims?

A Look at E-Scooter Injuries in Major Cities

Because e-scooters have been around in a few major cities for a number of years, data is available which seems to show a darker side. Since 2017, there have been 1,500 injuries and 8 deaths connected with e-scooter use. And a surprising fact is that 80% of those injuries involved falling off scooters, not crashing into cars. That seems to point to the e-scooters themselves being the danger. 50% of injured riders also claimed potholes were to blame — a major issue in Pennsylvania — and 99% of riders were not wearing helmets at the time of their accident.

There is also the question of “underage scooting.” If scooters are as dangerous as these statistics make them seem, should there be an age limit on who can ride them? A significant number of riders are under the age of 18, so what happens if they get injured? The terms of service for the likes of Bird and Lime undoubtedly assign a minimum age restriction, but is that enough to stop underage riders without a law on the books?

Insurance Coverage and Liability for E-Scooter Riders

e-scooter personal injury

The biggest question when it comes to e-scooters is, who is liable when an injury occurs? In any injury case, the rider and scooter rental company always have the potential to be considered liable. But what if the scooter comes in contact with a car? Would Pennsylvania’s comparative negligence laws for auto accidents come into play, or would it be covered by Personal Injury Protection like a pedestrian accident? What if the scooter hits a pedestrian, is it considered a motor vehicle like a car in this case? And what about an accident caused by a pothole, is the city at fault?

There is also the question of how e-scooter insurance will work. Do the rental companies cover the riders with their own insurance? Does the rider’s car insurance cover them? What about their homeowners insurance? What if the rider or the vehicle which hits them is uninsured? For now, the answers to these questions remain unclear.

Cars, trucks, and other large motor vehicles have been around for a long time, so the laws have had time to catch up to the technology — except in the case of autonomous vehicles. E-scooters are a relatively new mode of transportation with which liability law has not caught up quite yet.

Potential Dangers of E-Scooters

e-scooter

Some people will point to the crash statistics as a reason for electric scooters to be banned, but is this really the best option? While it’s true that the statistics do not paint scooters in a very good light right now, that can mostly be chalked up to the fact that they are relatively new. Over time, people will learn how to use scooters safely, and more laws will be in place to restrict exactly how and where they can be used. What if we had banned cars back in the 1920s because they were unsafe? They had no seat belts, no air bags, and glass that would shatter on impact. And yet, because they weren’t banned, we know have the relatively safe cars of today.

The real danger with e-scooters is that they are dockless. Scooters can be left anywhere by users, and are frequently seen strewn across sidewalks, impeding the flow of foot traffic. They have also been reported to be left in handicap parking spaces and other hazardous locations. This brings up yet another scooter liability question, who is liable when someone trips over an abandoned scooter?

Is the user who abandoned the scooter at fault for leaving the scooter in a dangerous location? Is the rental company at fault for encouraging their scooters to be left all over the place? What if a scooter is left in front of a store, is the store owner at fault if someone trips over it?

Conclusion

Electric scooters may be dangerous, but mostly because they are new. Future laws and more public exposure to them will improve their safety. However, determining exactly how e-scooters are going to fit into our society will take time, and there will be many accidents and injuries along the way. If these micro mobility devices do get legalized in Pennsylvania, it will only be a matter of time before you see them zipping around your local town.

Donaghue & Labrum Trial Lawyers

If you have been injured due to the negligence of someone else, whether you were an e-scooter rider, were injured by one, or have been injured in an accident unrelated to scooters, the lawyers of Donaghue & Labrum can help. Contact our law offices today for a free consultation and to learn how we can use our decades of experience to get you the compensation you deserve.