In June, Consumer Reports found that in the last two years e-scooters led to at least 8 deaths and over 1,500 injuries significant enough to warrant a hospital visit. They conducted a national survey which suggested that 27% of adults are confused about what traffic laws riders have to follow when using scooters. Cities have been considering regulating the scooter industry or banning the scooters all together due to all these incidents. Since June the e-scooter industry has continued to grow and so has the number of e-scoter accidents and injuries which has led to an increase in personal injury lawsuits involving e-scooters and e-scooter companies.
A new e-scooter lawsuit was filed in California Superior Court last week by Taranjot Samra against Bird Rides Inc, one of the major e-scooter companies (Samra vs Bird Rides Inc 37-2019-00066374-CU-PL-CTL). The complaint alleges that the scooter Samra was using was defective and dangerous. In November 2018, as Samra was using the scooter to make his way across campus at the University of California at San Diego, the scooter suddenly stopped and the plaintiff fell off the scooter onto the pavement, breaking his teeth and fracturing his sinuses in multiple places. These injuries resulted in several surgeries, bacterial and fungal infections, persistent dryness in his sinuses, continuous pounding headaches, damage to the plaintiff’s sense of smell and taste, and generally large amounts of pain. The plaintiff will need further medical treatment to deal with the long-lasting effects of his injuries.
In a letter to the plaintiff’s counsel on April 24, 2019 Bird stated that “There is no proof the scooter malfunctioned,” after refusing to preserve the scooter in question or make it available for examination to outsiders. This is far from the only lawsuit in which the scooters are accused of malfunctioning in some way.
Lime and Jump, other major e-scooter companies have also faced a significant volume of injury lawsuits in only the past 6 months. Lime admitted in February that they had found a flaw in their scooters in which the front wheel locked under certain conditions, such as traveling downhill at high speeds. The glitch took 3 months to fix.
A Texas attorney filed seven different personal injury lawsuits against Lime, Jump, and Bird companies in a single month after negotiations between his clients and the companies failed to go anywhere. One of these cases involved an incident in May where Brittany Leann Kohutek was riding a Bird scooter when, very similarly to Samra, the scooter stopped suddenly and “slammed her violently into the pavement.”
A study into two Southern California hospital ERs between September 2017 and August 2018 showed that most injuries related to e-scooters less than 5% of riders were wearing helmets, reported Bloomberg. In alignment with Consumer Reports’ study, Bloomberg reported that scooter riders tended not to follow traffic laws. The hospital study also showed that 80% of the injuries were caused by the riders falling off the scooter and 11% were caused by the rider crashing into something. Bird’s director of safety policy and advocacy, Paul Steely White, said that the study “fails to take into account the sheer number of e-scooter trips taken.”
In a variation on the common e-scooter injury cases, there is also a proposed class-action lawsuit pending in California State Court against multiple scooter companies for injuries sustained by pedestrians from scooter riders (DANIELLE BORGIA, ET AL. VS BIRD RIDES, INC., ET AL. 18STCV01416) In response, the class action suit Bird said “At Bird, safety is our very top priority, and it drives our mission to get cars off the road to make cities safer and more livable,” rather than addressing how the products are being used and leading to injuries even when not in use. Because the scooter companies operate in such a way that when users are done riding scooters they don’t have to return them any port and can just leave them where ever, many of the pedestrian injuries were caused by people tripping over scooters that were left on the sidewalk and in public areas. Catherine Anne Lerer, one of the attorneys working on the proposed class-action said that in her 25 years of practice as a personal injury attorney she had never seen such “devastating injuries before scooters arrived.” Most riders are made to sign a liability waiver before getting on the scooters, which will make e-scooter related cases much harder. Lerer commented that she hasn’t met a rider yet who admitted to reading the e-scooter user agreements.
Scooter companies have spoken up about safety measures in the past, saying that the scooters should only be used by adults, never be used by multiple people at once, and asking riders to wear helmets. Bird suggested that roads and city infrastructure need to be updated to account for the presence of scooters on the streets.
It is illegal to use scooters on sidewalks in at least California where the scooters are highly popular, but roads without bicycle lanes aren’t equipped to handle e-scooters. Consumer Reports’ national survey shows that 51% of riders use sidewalks, only 26% use bike lanes, and 18% use the roads but not the bike lanes; 20% of the riders said that they felt unsafe around traffic.
Tamara Kurtzman, a litigator in Beverly Hills, CA, contextualized the whole landscape of lawsuits succinctly when she said, “People are being injured one way or another. Everyone is madly trying to figure out who pays for it.”