E-scooters and injuries: Who is liable in Virginia?

E-Scooters are here.  The transportation phenomenon has swept in from the West Coast with brands such as Bird and Lime, filling cities and college campuses. Now they have come to the streets of Richmond. In June, the city officially issued the first permit allowing Bolt Mobility, a Florida-based company, to operate.

This relatively “new” mode of urban transportation poses fresh questions about what to do if you’re injured while operating a scooter, or injured by a scooter being operated by someone else.

People riding electric scooters down the street


Operator and Pedestrian E-Scooter Injuries

A recent study conducted in Austin, Texas by the Center for Disease Control identified 271 scooter-related injuries between September 5 and November 30, 2018, and found that almost half of those injured were sustained to the head.  That same research team calculated that during its study period, 20 people were injured for every 100,000 scooter trips taken.

A Consumer Reports investigation tabulating injuries from 110 hospitals in 47 U.S. cities found that at least 1,500 riders have been injured since e-scooters were introduced in late 2017.  Consumer Reports has identified at least 8 fatalities related to e-scooter use.

In response to a request for comment on pending litigation against the company for a scooter injury in Los Angeles, the e-scooter company Bird stated to Consumer Reports that “75% of the known fatalities with shared e-scooters were due to collisions with cars.”   

However, there have also been reports of mechanical failures that caused user injury.  In late May of 2019, an e-scooter from the company Skip burst into flames in Washington DC.  In March of 2019, a DC woman reported suffering injuries in an e-scooter accident caused by alleged brake failure on her Bird e-scooter.

Finally, a California study performed by JAMA found that though the majority of e-scooter related injuries were sustained by operators of the devices, there were also injuries sustained by pedestrians who had been hit by people operating the e-scooters, as well as pedestrians injured when they tripped over e-scooters left on sidewalks by operators.

Who Is Liable For E-Scooter Injuries and Deaths?

As with any injury claim, the question of liability depends on the situation surrounding your injury.  The data thus far demonstrates that injuries from e-scooter use can occur in a variety of ways.  Those injured in collisions caused by motor vehicles may have a claim against the operator of the motor vehicle.  Those injured through some sort of mechanical failure in the e-scooter itself such as a brake failure, may have a products liability claim against the host e-scooter company.

These cases are complex.  Because of the nature of these transportation devices as well as their relative novelty, there are significant hurdles to overcome in presenting claims on behalf of those who are injured through their use.  Questions may arise about whether the use of the e-scooter at the time of the collision complied with the relevant city ordinances.  These questions will be especially important in jurisdictions such as Virginia, where the doctrine of contributory negligence prevents plaintiffs from recovering damages if they were in any way at fault.

These claims are also affected by the end use agreements most, if not all, e-scooter companies require customers to accept to prior to use.  Those user agreements create even more complexity to a potential claim by requiring arbitration or including waivers of certain rights to bring claims.  The enforceability of these user agreements, however, depends upon the jurisdiction.

When using an e-scooter, be aware of the dangers and take the necessary precautions to protect yourself from injury.  Read up on the local ordinances and be familiar with the laws of your locality related to e-scooter use.

If you are injured in the use of an e-scooter, contact a competent attorney to help assist you in assessing and pursuing a claim.  You can further protect any potential claim by collecting and providing as much documentation of the event as possible.  Take, or have family or friends take, photos of the e-scooter directly after the collision as well as of the scene and surroundings. Document your injury.

If the injury occurred through a malfunction of the e-scooter itself, take all steps to preserve the e-scooter in its state directly after the collision.  Taking these steps could potentially be critical to preserving your claim against a driver of a motor vehicle or against the e-scooter company itself.

The attorneys at Allen, Allen, Allen & Allen have substantial experience investigating, litigating, and trying cases involving motor vehicle collisions as well as products liability cases.  Founding partner Ashby Allen obtained one of the first jury verdicts in Virginia against a major car manufacturer in 1950. Since that time, Allen Law Firm attorneys have successfully handled a wide range of cases involving dangerous products. These include automotive cases involving sport utility vehicle (“SUV”) rollovers, roof crush, seat belts, airbags, tires, rims, door locks and latches, fires, 15 passenger vans, conversion vans, and seatback collapse.

If you or someone you know have been seriously injured in the use of an e-scooter, call the Allen Law Firm. We are here to help.