Lime, Bird, Uber, Spin, Lyft, Jump and other electric scooters may be coming to Seattle soon – what happens if you are injured?
Posted Wednesday, June 5, 2019 by Christopher L. Thayer
Residents of Seattle have become accustomed to the presence of Lime Bikes, the colorful green and yellow bicycles for rent via an app on your smart phone. An increasing number of these bikes are electric, and soon Lime (and perhaps others) will be adding to their fleet of electric vehicles for pedestrians: electric scooters. Electric scooters are small 2-wheeled scooters with a rechargeable battery and an electric motor.
Common in other parts of the country, including Santa Monica, California, the small 2-wheel electric scooters are intended to help commuters with an alternate “clean” means of transport – plus they can be loads of fun. But, they are also potentially dangerous and can cause serious injury.
Seattle streets and sidewalks may soon be overrun with Bird, Lime, Jump, and Spin electric scooters. Having seen them in California, I can say that one of my first thoughts was, “wow, that looks like fun,” and my immediate second thought was “jeez you would really get hurt on one of those.” While on a recent vacation in Santa Monica, I was nearly run over by someone riding an electric scooter on the sidewalk.
The benefits, like ease of use and access, are key to the popularity of electric scooters. They are not without risk, however. Some factors to consider:
Speed: The electric motors are powerful and can propel riders up to 15 miles per hour. Although that may not seem all that fast – you may have a different conclusion if you hit a telephone pole at that speed. Keep in mind the average walking speed of a pedestrian is approximately 3 miles per hour.
Riding on sidewalks: Whether electric scooters will be allowed on sidewalks (vs roadway or bike paths) remains to be seen. Electric scooters and pedestrians on a busy sidewalk is a dangerous combination – something I can attest to personally having nearly been knocked off my feet by a person zipping by on a scooter.
Trip hazards: once people are done riding a scooter they can just leave it in the middle of the sidewalk, posing a potential trip/fall hazard.
Potholes and sidewalk cracks: anyone who lives in Seattle can tell you about the cracks and potholes in the paved roads as well as the cracked and uneven sidewalks. With their small diameter wheels, electric scooters are not well suited to deal with these hazards.
Some of the risks for electric scooter riders include:
Scooter Riders are hard to see: Scooters are small and have a low profile; therefore, motorists are less likely to see them.
No barrier between scooter rider and road: Scooters do not have roll bars or any other safety protection. Moreover, most scooter riders do not wear helmets.
Less stability: With only two small wheels, the scooter can be difficult to maneuver, particularly during emergency braking.
Inexperienced riders: A high percentage of electric scooter riders have never ridden one before. There is no special licensing, training or qualifications required. If you can download the app and enter your credit card information, you are good to go.
Emergency stop: Under hard sudden braking conditions, the rider can be thrown off the scooter – potentially into traffic.
Intoxication or impairment: A person who knows well enough not to drink and drive might well be tempted to hop on a scooter as an alternate means to get home after an evening at a bar, but operating a scooter on the roadway or even the sidewalk when impaired could prove disastrous.
How do I obtain fair compensation in the event of an electric Scooter Accident?
This can be a challenge, and is an area of evolving law, which may well prompt legislative changes with ripples to the insurance industry. Finding a source of compensation for injuries caused by Bird, Lime, Jump, and Spin electric scooter accidents can present serious challenges. Though Washington law requires motor vehicle drivers to have liability insurance, there is no such requirement for electric scooter riders.
Who is at fault for the accident involving an electric scooter (Bird, Lime, Jump, or Spin, etc.) will determine whether there are resources to compensate you for your injuries:
Rider at fault for someone else’s injuries: If the scooter rider was at fault for an accident then the rider is liable for your injuries. If the scooter rider had homeowner’s or renter’s insurance, their insurance company may cover your claim.
Scooter company at fault: If the scooter malfunctions resulting in injury, the manufacturer may be liable for your injuries, if it can be proven the electric scooter was unsafe.
Car vs. scooter: If you are riding an electric scooter and are struck by a vehicle, the driver’s auto insurance carrier will be liable for your injury claim, and there may be insurance coverage for your medical expenses – regardless of fault.
Scooter v. Pedestrian: If a pedestrian causes a scooter rider injuries, by stepping out suddenly in front of a scooter, then the pedestrian’s homeowner’s or renter’s insurance may pay.
Hazard created by private property owner or business: If a scooter rider is injured due to an unsafe condition (hazard) created by a property owner or business, that person or entity may be at fault and the scooter rider may be able to make a claim against the homeowner or business owner’s insurance.
Government liability: In Washington, municipalities are required to keep the roads and sidewalks “reasonable safe for normal travel”. If the municipality fails to satisfy this obligation, there may be a claim against the government entity.
Dog owner at fault: If a dog chases an electric scooter rider, and bites or attacks the rider, the dog owner is liable and their homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy may apply.
Because electric scooters are a new form of transportation and there are few laws in place to deal with their use (and potential abuse), electric scooter accidents can involve complicated and novel legal issues. If you are involved in an accident with a scooter, feel free to call managing member Chris Thayer at (206) 805-1494 or email at CThayer@PivotalLawGroup.com.