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The Scooter Lawsuits are Here

This week, Lime and Segway join Bird in the growing club of e-scooter companies being sued by users who claim they were seriously injured while riding malfunctioning scooters. [1,2]

The lawsuits claim that sudden accelerations and faulty brakes, throttles, handlebars, and wheels caused riders to be thrown off the e-scooter devices. The lawsuit against Lime and Segway was filed this week in San Francisco on behalf of 46 people, who suffered injuries such as fractures, broken bones, and concussions. The lawsuit against Bird on behalf of 42 people was filed in Los Angeles back in May. 

The most recent lawsuit this week alleges Segway manufactured the scooters with insufficient safety features and that Lime distributed the devices on streets across the country but failed to keep them in safe working order. As well as detailing rider injuries, the lawsuit also asserts that Lime’s gig-economy contractors who are responsible for picking up Lime scooters, charging them at home, and then placing them back onto the streets —lacked any incentive or training to report malfunctioning scooters.

Most of the incidents that both lawsuits deal with date back to 2018, where riders were using the companies’ first or second-generation scooters. These early generation units have since been replaced with newer models, which Bird and Lime say include improved safety features. There is for instance an example of the evolution of e-scooter models used by scooter-sharing companies on Voi’s current website [3].  

While lawsuits against scooter companies are not new, these two recent cases differ from previous actions – which mostly focused on the irresponsible and dangerous behavior of e-scooter users to pedestrians [4]. However, according to Catherine Lerer, one of the attorneys representing riders in both lawsuits, her firm is preparing separate lawsuits against Lyft, Spin, and Bird on behalf of pedestrians, most elderly, who were injured after tripping over or being struck by scooters.

 

Personal comments

As an owner of an e-scooter myself, I find it wholly unsurprising that quite serious injuries can happen if these devices are not regularly maintained. E-scooters generally need more maintenance compared to a regular bicycle. This is because they have much smaller tires to absorb vibrations, as well as most earlier scooter models only having mechanical brakes on just one of their wheels – which leaves no redundancy. And that’s even before accounting for the well-publicized phenomenon of how badly they tend to be treated and often targeted for vandalism. 

However, what I find most interesting about this development is whether it could spell the end of the gig-economy model still used by many scooter-sharing companies to charge and relocate their vehicles. While collecting e-scooters, charging them, and then putting them back onto the streets is a relatively simple task that can be farmed out to the gig economy, maintenance and performing safety checks is not. Most European scooter-sharing operators have already started to transition away from relying on the gig-economy to charge and reposition scooters. Dott and Circ both supposedly run their operations teams in-house, whilst Tier and Voi appear to rely on a mix between in-house and professional contractors. These more vertically integrated business models should in theory mean better maintenance and fewer people flying off scooters, as well as longer vehicle lifespans. 

What’s also worth mentioning is that scooter-sharing companies have started partnering with insurance firms. However, the level of coverage seems to greatly differ between the companies and between countries they operate in. Most seem to offer third party liability (in the event of injury to pedestrians or property) but only a few companies include coverage for injury to the user themselves.   

 

Written by Bobby Chen, RISE.

 

Sources

1. 2020-08-21. Lime and Bird sued over alleged scooter safety failures and injuries to dozens 

2. 2020-08-20. Scooter Rental, Maker Face Lawsuit Over Faulty Equipment

3. 2020-08-26. Voi Vehicles

4. 2018-10-21. Class-action lawsuit accuses e-scooter companies of ‘gross negligence’