E-Scooter Injuries Pile-Up Across the Country and in RI - Drunk, Underage and No Helmets

Thursday, January 31, 2019


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New data is emerging that the number of injuries and the severity of injuries tied to riding e-scooters like Bird and Lime are significant -- and shows that riders can be drunk, rarely wearing helmets and often under the legal age to operate.

E-Scooters are a combination of one of the newest iterations of the transformation of personal transportation, and a dangerous play toy that can pose a threat to the rider, pedestrian, and be a personal injury lawyer’s dream.

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) by the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) found that over 10 percent of the injured were under 18 — the required age to operate the e-scooters — some taken to emergency rooms were as young as 8-years-old.

The study was based on data from just two hospitals — two emergency departments affiliated with the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and UCLA Medical Center–Santa Monica -- during a one year period between September 1, 2017, and August 31, 2018,

“This rapidly expanding technology is a disruptive force in short-distance transportation, and policymakers seeking to understand associated risks and appropriate regulatory responses should seriously consider its effects on public health. Riders share roads with fast-moving vehicular traffic but appear to underestimate hazards; we found that 94.3% of observed riders in our community were not wearing a helmet," wrote the study's authors, Tarak K. Trivedi, MD, MS; Charles Liu, MD; and Anna Liza M. Antonio, DrPH.

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In Providence, this child and adult were seen riding without helmets

Rhode Island

GoLocal has found that at just four Rhode Island hospitals during the four-month period between October 2018 to January 2019, more than 20 e-scooter riders visited Lifespan Hospital emergency rooms. Those numbers in the Rhode Island data are limited. The search of Lifespan Hospitals’ data only included a keyword search, said David Levesque, spokesperson for Lifespan.

“[The data] is roughly the time in which the Bird and Lime scooters have been available in Providence. There is no way to determine whether these were from rented 'e-scooters' or privately owned motorized/electric scooters,” said Levesque.

According to numbers in the UCLA study, emergency room testing found that more than 5 percent injured were tested and were legally drunk.

The most common injuries were fractures (31.7%), head injuries (40.2%), and soft-tissue injuries (27.7%).

The California data shows that 40 percent of the injuries were head injuries and those may be tied to the finding that more than 95 percent of riders were not wearing helmets.

According to the study, “While riders of electric scooters in California are required to be at least 16 years old by state law and 18 years old by company rental agreements, we found that 10.8% of electric scooter injuries were in patients younger than 18 years. This suggests that current self-enforced regulations imposed by private electric scooter companies may be inadequate.”

“Although California law required helmet use while operating electric scooters during the entire study period, only 4.4% of injured scooter riders were documented to be wearing a helmet. A newly passed California law will make helmet use optional for electric scooter riders older than 18 years on January 1, 2019; it is unclear how this change in policy will affect rider practices and injury patterns."

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Legal Implications

Providence confirmed that the City of Providence is claiming to be indemnified via its agreement with operators in the City, as contained in the scooter applicant language:

"As a condition of authorization, the Applicant agrees to indemnify and hold harmless the City, its officers, employees and agents from and against any and all lost arising out of, resulting from, or in any manner caused by the presence, location, use, operation, installation, maintenance, placement, or removal of scooters, or by the acts or omissions of the employees or, agents of the Applicant in connection with the scooters. The City of Providence does not require scooter users over the age of 15 to wear helmets. If the applicant requires helmets, all liability for their customers’ failure to comply with this requirement is assumed by the Applicant."

In an interview with GoLocalProv in October, Catherine Lerer, who is a founding attorney at McGee, Lerer and Associates in California, spoke to the other legal implications she had seen to date. She represents a number of individuals in lawsuits over injuries tied to scooters.

"We have a lot of clients -- pedestrians and riders. It looks like all the cities are following the route of the indemnification clause, which is smart to do," said Lerer. "If riders go over a pothole -- they should do that." 

"The problem for riders, when you download the app, is there are draconian clauses [that prohibit riders] from suing for their injuries," said Lerer. "I have at least 20 clients, [both] riders and pedestrians."

Lerer filed what she said is the first class-action lawsuit on October 19, 2018 against Bird and Lime scooters -- and their manufacturers.

She responded to a GoLocalProv inquiry for this article and said the lawsuit is "still in the preliminary stages."


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