Scooters Return to Providence—Will Personal Injury Lawsuits Follow?

Friday, October 19, 2018


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Scooters are back in Providence -- will there be legal implications? Photo: GoLocalProv

On Thursday, the City of Providence officially welcomed back Bird scooters, which had showed up unannounced and unregulated in July, before the city declared it was establishing a permitting framework in August.

Now, two months after the city stepped in, Bird -- along with Uber-backed Lime scooters -- were back on the streets of Providence this week as GoLocal first reported, after applying for and receiving permits from the city.

VIDEO: See Mayor Jorge Elorza Welcome Bird Scooter Back to Providence BELOW

As CNN reported on October 1, however, "That electric scooter might be fun. It also might be deadly."

"The scooters have swarmed cities this past year, with companies like Bird and Lime aggressively expanding into markets across the United States as well as Europe  But the machines have brought with them a wave of scooter-related injuries and even two recent deaths," reported CNN, who wrote:

"My friends told me I looked like a human missile," said Brandon Nelson, a 32-year-old firefighter, as he recounted an accident last month on an electric scooter in San Diego, one of hundreds released onto that city's streets by Bird, a California-based rideshare company.

Catherine Lerer, a personal injury lawyer in Los Angeles who is representing Nelson, says she receives calls every day from injured riders. "We're not against electric scooters," she said, "but they are less stable than bicycles for a variety of reasons. They have a shorter wheelbase and they have smaller wheels, so they're going to be affected by any defects in the pavement."

GoLocalProv caught up with Lerer, who is currently representing "over twenty" scooter injury clients -- both riders and pedestrians.

Legal Implications

Providence confirmed that the city is indemnified, 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."

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A Bird scooter with an underage rider, two riders, no helmets, and riding on the sidewalk in August -- all forbidden by the rules set forth by the company.

In an interview with GoLocalProv, Lerer, who is a founding attorney at McGee, Lerer and Associates in California, spoke to the other legal implications she has seen to date. 

"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. I haven't filed a suit on any of the cases yet, as my cases are still being treated. They're still being treated and incurring bills and then we'll move forward. We'll see if [Bird and Lime's] insurance companies will be willing to settle."

Lerer said she believes there will be a public relations issue for scooter companies if more riders and pedestrians are injured or killed -- and the companies bear no responsibility. 

"I think there's a public relations issue [for the scooter companies], especially when people like pedestrians are hit," said Lerer. "We have a lot of seniors in Santa Monica. A lot of people, if someone has a pre-existing condition -- say a back or hip injury -- they're scared they're going to get hit."

"Legally, the pedestrian has the claim against the rider," said Lerer. "But some of the cases I have -- the rider doesn't stop and keeps going -- and we don't have the ID of the rider, and Bird and Lime have been refusing to [release that information]."

"We certainly didn't seek this out [this business], but I live in Santa Monica and I couldn't turn away from it.  All these people are being injured and it's not right. They're incurring a lot of medical bills. I don't think the city [of Santa Monica] should be paying, but neither should the taxpayers of California," said Lerer.  "A lot of these riders have MediCal --- and taxpayers of CA are picking up their emergency room costs."



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