Along for the Ride – The Legal Impact of Electric Scooter Startup’s | Litwiniuk and Company

Big tech is disrupting transportation regardless of the consequences, betting that consumer desires will trump safety and public policy concerns.  Consumers want easier, better, and cheaper options to get around, and creative tech entrepreneurs keep finding new ways to deliver.  First came popular car-sharing services such as CAR2GO, which were then followed by ride sharing services like Uber and Lyft, all promising to free us from the tyranny of car ownership and taxis respectively.  The latest consumer mobility craze has arrived in the form of e-scooter and e-bike rentals.

If you are not familiar with the concept, companies such as Lime, Skip, and Scoot are pledging to deliver the future of transportation in the form of electric scooter rentals. You read that right; companies are filling the streets and sidewalks of cities worldwide with e-scooters and e-bikes.  Customers use an app to locate the vehicles, activate them for a $1.00 charge, and automatically pay for the trip at $0.15-$0.30/minute using a stored credit card.  Once at their destination, riders simply leave the scooters or bikes on the curb and end the ride in the app.  There are no docking stations or designated parking areas, so you might find a scooter laying in an alley, splayed across a sidewalk, or sitting on your front lawn.  Employees of the company collect the bikes and scooters periodically and bring them to a central facility for recharging.  If you live in a major Canadian city, there’s a good chance you have already seen or perhaps used e-bikes or e-scooters.  Larger players like Uber are getting into the game, so we can only expect to see more in the future.

E-scooter companies tout the affordability, convenience, and reduced environmental impact of the service; more people on scooters and bikes in cities means fewer in automobiles.  Safety is also emphasized on companies’ websites, including Lime’s, which encourages riders to “Always follow helmet laws.  Park properly by curbside.  Do a pre-ride safety check.  Always follow traffic laws.” But what if a rider fails to follow these guidelines and someone is injured?  What if a rider follows all the guidelines and still injures herself or others?  E-scooter companies will certainly face exposure to liability, the extent of which is still uncertain.

Consider the following scenario: a rider of an e-scooter following all the rules is hit and injured by an insured car through no fault of her own.  The case is cut and dry; the insurance of the at-fault party will cover liability and the damages.  Now, imagine a few scenarios where liability and who pays become more complex:

  • The rider injures someone else through her negligence while riding a rented e-bike, and has no homeowners’ insurance;
  • The rider is impaired;
  • An unknown vandal throws an e-scooter into the street and car runs over it, damaging the car and injuring the passengers;
  • A child gains unauthorized access to an e-scooter and is injured in the course of the ride;
  • The e-scooter is mechanically faulty and causes injury to a rider.

Each of these cases will turn on the specific facts and the realities of insurance coverage.  Lawyers will look to insurance policies, user agreements, terms and conditions, and waivers to untangle complex liability issues.  Is clicking the “accept” box at the bottom of a massive list of terms and conditions (which nobody reads) enough to shield a company from having to pay out a claim?  Are the safety notices and videos on these companies’ websites sufficient to absolve them of responsibility for riders’ unsafe use of the product?  Will municipalities bear any liability for allowing e-scooters and e-bikes on their roads?

These issues and questions – and many more – are likely to arise more frequently and in greater numbers as this new form of transportation floods the market.  It is for insurance and injury lawyers to unpack the issues, wade through the complexities, and test or make the law in court.  For now, the attitude of e-scooter companies mirrors Uber and other tech disruptors: damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.  Consumers are willing to accept the risk and uncertainty, as long as the cost is low and convenience is high.

If you or a family member has been injured on an e-scooter or bicycle you may need to speak with a lawyer.

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