A Guide for Attorneys
This article is part of a three-part series that has been designed for the legal community, to outline the complexities of pursuing electric scooter accident cases. Additional articles discuss themes commonly found in scooter companies’ user agreements and evidence collection following a scooter accident. That said, we hope that the general public finds this helpful, as well — especially if you are in a situation where you’ve been injured on an electric scooter.
Electric scooters are everywhere. You see them for rent on city sidewalks — near parks, bars, and restaurants. Depending on where you are, you may see scooter brands like Bird, Lime, Wheels, or Jump. Scooters are typically rented for short rides, as an easy and fun way of getting around.
The growing popularity of scooters is undeniable. Their advocates — along with city officials and urban planners, alike — have hailed electric scooters as a key piece of the so-called “micromobility revolution.” They argue that scooters are helping to alleviate traffic congestion by taking lane-clogging, air-polluting cars off urban streets. This translates into reduced need for parking spaces and more opportunities for pedestrian-friendly areas.
All of this is well and good. But, as more riders have switched to scooters to get around downtowns and suburban neighborhoods, the number of scooter-related accidents has increased in lockstep. We’re seeing a lot of broken arms, clavicles, and legs — as well as facial injuries — related to these accidents, as riders jump or are thrown from their scooters and brace themselves for impact.
Years ago, scooters were initially deployed without any sort of real regulation or oversight from the governments. Prior their arrival, laws and city ordinances simply didn’t address their use. Local governments were blindsided by how they proliferated along sidewalks.
Today, cities and states are slowly starting to catch up to the potential negative consequences that scooters can cause on city sidewalks, bicycle lanes, and streets. City councils are putting laws and regulations into place to protect their citizens from injuries that may be sustained on these scooters.
At the same time, we’re learning of discussions about whether scooter companies should be required to carry a certain level of insurance for each and every scooter rider. Conversations are happening about whether insurance can be provided by third-party carriers, so that riders can opt into purchasing coverage prior to their rides.
How Fault Is Determined in Scooter Accidents
There are many misconceptions about how fault is determined in electric scooter accidents. No matter what, fault is not determined exclusively by scooter companies or these firms’ insurance companies. Nor is fault determined solely by scooter riders — or city governments, or the police.
Let’s dispel some myths:
- Companies such as Bird, Lime, Wheels, and Jump have insurance carriers that may say that they are the party that determines fault. Insurers can produce reports about the likelihood of a case’s outcome if it were put before a third party — such as an arbitrator or jury. However, insurance companies do not have final say regarding fault. It is not their decision.
- Cities are typically indemnified by scooter companies if someone is injured on a scooter while riding on a sidewalk, bicycle lane, or a city street.
- While police officers can issue citations for wrongdoing based on laws, they cannot determine fault.
Most commonly, the final say over who is at fault is a third-party arbitrator or potentially a jury of peers, who will render a verdict in a case regarding fault. It is possible that comparative allocation — or percentage of fault — can be a part of the verdict. In other words, the arbitrator or jury can rule that a scooter company may be 80 percent at fault, and the rider may be 20 percent at fault.
To understand how disputes of fault between parties can be resolved in electric scooter accident claims, it’s important to carefully review scooter companies’ user agreements, which commonly have arbitration provisions.
The Role of Arbitration in Electric Scooter Accident Cases
The most well-known electric scooter companies use arbitration provisions in their user agreements. These state that, in the event that a rider wishes to bring claim against the scooter company, the predetermined way is through a third-party arbitrator, rather than a court.
Arbitration is a little different than going into a courtroom. Instead of presenting your case before a jury, you usually deal with one arbitrator. Sometimes there may be a panel of up to three arbitrators. It’s really an informal courtroom procedure. You present your case in the office of an arbitrator office, who acts as a judge, in some regard.
After presenting your best case as a plaintiff, and the defendant presents its best case, the arbitrator makes a final decision. He or she will make a determination on how laws are applied, how contractual terms are applied, and then, ultimately, whether the rider or plaintiff is entitled to any sort of damages.
Rules of evidence and procedure still apply in arbitration. Depending on where a case is being arbitrated, these rules may be a little bit different.
Arbitration is binding. In other words, after a decision is rendered, you cannot appeal to a trial court. The decision is final; parties have to live with the decision. Scooter companies’ insurers are bound to arbitration decisions, as well. If an arbitrator were to award a plaintiff damages, the insurance company would have to pay for those.
Arbitration is something we’re seeing more frequently in agreements in which people enter into some sort of contractual relationship. In fact, there was a pretty tremendous injury claim in Texas — Phillips v. Neutron Holdings, Inc. — that was litigated against Lime’s parent company, Neutron Holdings. Although the case was litigated in the Texas courts, Lime moved to have the case dismissed and wanted to compel the plaintiff, the rider, to arbitrate the case.
The next article in this series will discuss scooter companies’ user agreements in depth. We’ll explore what attorneys should look for in these user agreements, and how versions of agreements can offer clues that shed light on companies’ awareness of product liability.
If your law firm is working through a scooter accident case and has specific questions about scooter law, give Negretti & Associates a call. We’ll be happy to talk with you about what we’ve dealt with in the past and give you our playbook to help you. At the same time, if you want to get us involved to try to help you and your client, we’re happy to do that as well. Call us at 602-531-3911.