In recent months, Dockless scooters, like those from Bird Scooters, Inc., have been the center of media attention. Reports of injury, property damage, and public nuisance have led municipal officials to carefully consider whether they want to allow the units on city streets. Are dockless scooters actually dangerous, or are they being overplayed by the media? What are the consequences if someone suffers an injury?
In September, the Washington Post reported a nationwide increase in ER visits related to scooters. In Salt Lake City, where officials have allowed them on the streets since June, one hospital noted a whopping 161% increase in the number of emergency department visits involving scooters, compared to the three month period prior. The University of Utah Health emergency department treated eight people injured by scooters between June and September 2017. Within the same 3 month period in 2018, that number jumped to 21. According to one attending physician within the department, many of those injured reported that they were using a rental scooter or e-scooter like those peddled by companies like Bird and Lime.
The range of the patients was between 20 and 50, and most injured themselves by attempting to break a fall. Also worthy of note is that these were only emergency department visits – when considering urgent care visits or appointments to a primary care physician, it is possible that these numbers were much higher.
Among the reported injuries from scooters were fractures and dislocations of the limbs, as well as soft tissue injuries such as lacerations and sprains. Emergency department physicians also reported traumatic head injuries. In many instances, the patients reported that they were either intoxicated or not wearing a helmet at the time of the injury.
When the Washington Post approached Bird, Inc. for comment, the company said that safety was a top priority. However, the company has done little to assuage the concerns of people who see these scooters littering area roadways.
Injuries can also arise outside of operating a dockless scooter. Since their business model relies on leaving the scooters anywhere, it is not uncommon to find them in the middle of sidewalks and business doors for patrons and other commuters to trip over.
It is important to remember that Bird Scooters are meant to be on the road, not on sidewalks where they can run into people. However, not everyone follows the rules and both riders and other pedestrians are in danger of injury.
The peer-to-peer model of business is still developing, as is the liability law surrounding it. Unlike the largest ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft, who have insurance to cover their drivers, Bird and Lime give the liability directly to the rider of the scooter. This means that the rider of a scooter will be liable for any injuries they cause, self-inflicted or otherwise.
Unfortunately, e-scooters fall under a loophole in Utah law that makes motor assisted scooters unnecessary to insure. If someone sustains an injury as the result of someone operating an e-scooter, it is possible that person is uninsured.
If injuries continue to be a problem, it is possible that e-scooters will require some sort of coverage as they become more ubiquitous. For now, however, injured parties are limited in their ability to seek compensation from an insurance company, unless an accident resulted from an at-fault driver. The best option for anyone who sustains a serious injury using an e-scooter is to consult with a personal injury attorney, who can further investigate any possible legal options.
Dockless scooters may be convenient, but they will likely continue to cause preventable injury to people in Salt Lake City until the state imposes further regulations.