Could Electric Scooter Claims Be the Biggest New Practice Area for Personal Injury?
Electric scooters are now available across the state – one of the biggest companies, LimeBike has offered them in cities across the state.
… And this is just the beginning. LimeBike, Bird Rides, and a cohort of other dockless vehicle companies have big plans to roll out more vehicles across the state.
What will these new flocks of motorized vehicles mean for personal injury attorneys, negotiating for injured travelers, mean across the state?
In the user agreement for Bird Bikes, a rider is required to file a police report for injuries within 24 hours if personal injury occurs.
1.12 Reporting of Damage or Crashes. Rider must report any accident, crash, damage, personal injury, stolen or lost Vehicle, to Bird as soon as possible. If a crash involves personal injury, property damage, or a stolen Vehicle, Rider shall file a report with the local police department within 24 hours. Rider agrees that he/she is responsible and liable for any misuse, consequences, claims, demands, causes of action, losses, liabilities, damages, injuries, costs and expenses, penalties, attorney’s fees, judgments, suits or disbursements of any kind or nature whatsoever related to a stolen or lost Vehicle.
How soon will attorneys be handling litigation involving dockless scooters?
A scramble to regulate the new companies may set some standard for Dockless motorized scooters dropped by two companies – Bird Rides and LimeBike – started posing hazards to pedestrians when the company dropped them on April 16. Now, in a flash they’re all gone. City of Austin officials worked overnight to roll out a plan to regulate the business. They’re avoiding a swamp – and a the treacherous unknown road hazards the scooters (and bikes!) could pose to the city and it’s pedestrians. It’s possible personal injury attorneys could be seeing a new set of cases in Austin, related to the liability scooters and drivers will take on in a new driver-rider landscape.
Scooters left undocked could pose serious danger to pedestrians, especially those that are visually impaired. Blocking sidewalks with a bicycle is already a ticketable offense in the city of Austin. But what happens when those bikes are dockless, not owned by the rider, and left in flocks on city sidewalks? If you’re imagining sidewalks littered with motorized scooters, you might be on the same page as Austin’s City Council.
It could be negligent for a company to allow their fleet to clog up roadways causing road hazards for pedestrians. It’ll be up to many in the city Austin to determine where that line will fall. At this time companies vetted by the city are required to carry liability insurance on the riders. But as many new companies entered the market all at once – will all have such precautions?
The scooter saga has just begun, and several important events unfolded in Austin in the regulation of motorized scooters and bicycles. Recall that Austin already has a rent-to-use bicycle program called Austin B-Cycle. Even so, Austin started this spring a “dockless bike share community forum” as an effort promote cycling and other “active transportation.” The forum, held at the city’s new downtown Austin library, included four-minute pitches. Reps from each free-range bike rental company gave shark-tank style pitches on why riders should rely on them, and the city should choose them in the pilot program. Earlier this year things were going well and looking a lot less complicated for city council.
Texas Officials Struggle to Regulate New Flock of Scooters
Laura Dierenfield, a city official employee who leads the efforts was quoted by the Statesman’s Ben Wear as saying “we’re really focusing on bikes. I don’t see this pilot focusing on scooters.”
Fast forward just a few weeks and that statement sounds ridiculous. Going downtown it’s hard to miss one of the rentable, dockless scooters. Within 2 days of Dierenfield’s statement to the reporter, the city’s focus had been forcefully shifted to attention on scooters. Bird Rides had dropped about 50 black-and-white electric scooters in South Congress, the Zilker area, and East Austin’s entertainment district. And LimeBike had dropped a set of green-white scooters of their own. The city’s response was to let the company’s representatives know that they would impound any scooters that were left to sit in right of way for two days or more.
With scooters already out on the streets, Austin decided to add scooters to the pilot program as well. Estimates say that Bird Rides’ flock of thin scooters had grown to almost 700. But the question of who would be responsible in the event of a
Then on Friday April 27, City Council worked until after 2 a.m. to finalize changes to city code that would prohibit leaving dockless scooters and bikes on sidewalks and streets until a permitting process begins. Violators can face a $200 fine and have the scooter impounded. Companies shouldn’t operate in way that might endanger people by having unsafe streets or sidewalks – such as if a hoard of scooters were left on a busy pathway, tripped individuals or forced them into traffic.
Then, over the weekend, both companies pulled their vehicles from city streets, saying that they expected them to be back again in a few days. The city of Austin did impound about 70 of them before the shuffle. A rep from Birds said they would not be operating outside the boundaries of the Austin ordinance just passed.
Remember that we mentioned Austin’s own B-Cycle program at the start of this article? It was the the first rent-a-bike program in Austin. It was created in Austin, for Austin, and will soon be outnumberd (and likely outpriced) by newcomers in the pilot program. Startups such as LimeBikes, Ofos, MoBikes, Jumps and V Bikes, will be offering a ride for less than the city’s own B-Cycle.
It all sounds too familiar. Recall Uber and Lyft’s messy fingerprinting history with city council, and the vote on Prop 1? Let’s hope, for everyone, that the new and yet-untested market of dockless bicycles and scooters doesn’t go there. It’s now up to city of Austin officials, bike and scooter riders, and the scooter startups to find a solution that will keep the dockless vehicles out of right of way, and out of the harm of blind or otherwise impaired pedestrians.