As electric scooters have popped up in cities across the country, so have stories about e-scooter accidents, and that means personal injury lawyers are paying close attention to the new transportation trend.
Electric scooters are currently illegal in New York (both city and state), but city officials are hoping to change that soon. In November, council members introduced a package of bills to legalize electric scooters and throttle e-bikes.
But personal injury lawyers say a lot has to be done before e-scooters can take over New York City streets.
“Our highways and sidewalks are not set up to allow for a large influx of low-speed, low-visibility vehicles like electric scooters,” said George T. Sink, Jr., an attorney at George Sink, P.A. Injury Lawyers who used to live in New York City. “We will almost certainly see a rise in injuries to scooter riders, to pedestrians and in car wrecks caused by drivers being surprised by scooters.”
Some concerns about electric scooter safety come from the fact that they move more slowly than vehicle traffic and they can also be ridden in an “unexpected way.”
“Sometimes these scooters and other vehicles are ridden on sidewalks or parks where cars aren’t allowed and pedestrians aren’t looking out for fast-moving vehicles,” Sink said. “Operators often don’t know whether to follow the rules for a car or the rules for a pedestrian, so the operators may make mistakes too.”
And if you do get into an electric scooter accident, who is liable? Sink said that e-scooter companies like Bird and Lime “create lengthy ‘terms of service’ contracts that attempt to shift responsibility for using the scooters away from the company and onto the rider,” and that riders may not be aware of the responsibility they’re taking on every time they get on an electric scooter.
“It’s worth consulting an attorney if you were injured after a wreck involving a scooter, e-bike, moped, golf cart or other motorized vehicle,” he added. “The laws are changing and you’ll likely need legal help to understand who will bear the burden of medical bills, damage to cars or property and who is to blame for the wreck.”
Electric scooters and NYC street safety
Council Member Rafael Espinal is one official pushing for the legalization of electric scooters in New York City. When asked about personal injury concerns, he said in an email that he understands those who have “legitimate safety concerns about e-scooters,” which is why his bill caps e-scooter speeds at 15 miles per hour.
“We will also be conducting a pilot program to ensure that we find the safest, most efficient way to integrate e-scooters into city streets,” he continued. “Our goal is to provide safe, affordable, low-emissions alternatives to New York’s commuters, which is especially necessary at a time when our transit system is in crisis and the L train shutdown is just months away.”
“Accidents involving e-scooters may grab headlines, but automobiles are still the top threat to people’s safety on city streets,” Espinal added. “We need to start transitioning away from car culture and invest in public transportation and innovative transit alternatives. That’s what this legislation aims to achieve.”
In 2017, New York City saw the lowest total of pedestrian deaths since officials began tracking such data in 1910. There were 214 traffic fatalities in total in 2017: 101 pedestrians, 23 bicyclists, 33 motorcyclists and 57 drivers. Despite the progress, officials say those numbers are still too high.
A Bird spokesperson also pointed to the the danger of cars when asked about safety and personal injury concerns of e-scooters, and said that cities such as Austin have released public data showing electric scooters are are “just as safe — if not safer — than bikes.”
“Class action attorneys with a real interest in improving transportation safety should be focused on reducing the 40,000 deaths caused by cars every year in the U.S.,” the statement continued. “At Bird, safety is our very top priority, and it drives our mission to get cars off the road to make cities safer and more livable. …Shared e-scooters are already replacing millions of short car trips and the pollution that comes with them, and we at Bird will continue to work with cities to help them redesign their transportation networks so that they are safer and cleaner.”