Emergency rooms in the U.S. are witnessing a sharp increase in electric scooter-related injuries as start-ups like Lime, Spin and Bird continue to expand their e-scooter sharing services across the country, with a presence in nearly 100 cities, as of now.
A comprehensive new report from CNET examines the impact this relatively new service is having on public safety.
Although no detailed data on injuries and deaths related to these services are yet available, cities, where these services are more popular, have seen an unprecedented surge in ER visits, with a hospital in Austin, Texas, reporting at least 10 e-scooter injuries a day.
An e-scooter ride typically costs 15 cents per minute of riding time, in addition to the flat one dollar you pay for the rental, and can be easily booked through the service providers’ apps.
With hundreds of these scooters scattered throughout participating cities, accessing one is seldom an issue and the fact that these are “dockless” vehicles means you can pick them up and drop them off pretty much anywhere in the city.
“This is disruptive technology,” Dr. Christopher Ziebell, emergency room medical director at Austin’s Dell Seton Medical Center in Texas, told CNET, adding “but this time the disruption is disrupting forearms, elbows and heads.”
While most of these injuries were minor cuts and abrasions, there were some “significant” ones too.
“The vast majority end up getting discharged with cuts and scrapes, maybe a broken bone,” Dr. Ziebell told the website. “But some injuries are significant.”
Since April, the Austin hospital has treated as many as 37 cases of severe trauma, including 8 head injuries, 23 orthopedic injuries, 4 facial injuries and two “other” injuries.
“The folks that had severe head injuries, they’re in for a long course of rehab,” CNET quoted Dr. Ziebell as saying. “Some people may need lifelong care, like a nursing home.”
He told CNET that hitting the ground at 20 miles per hour was the same as being hit on the head by a baseball swung at a similar speed.
At least two e-scooter-related deaths have been reported in the country, including that of a 20-year-old man who was brought down by an SUV while riding in Washington DC, and another in Dallas, Texas, where a 24-year-old man suffered fatal head injuries after falling off his rented scooter.
According to the CNET investigation, hospitals in other cities have also reported an upward trend in injuries resulting from e-scooter mishaps, with about 10 injuries a month in San Diego and as frequent as 10 every week in San Francisco.
These numbers only include riders and not pedestrians who have been hit by these seemingly innocuous devices.
“We are seeing some scary injuries,” the website quoted Dr. Chris Colwell, chief of emergency medicine for Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center, as saying. “There’s still a lack of recognition of how serious this can be.”
While it is binding on e-scooter ride companies to ensure public safety, which is something they religiously claim as their top priority, it would be a tad unfair to put the entire blame on them.
There are different causes for these injuries, such as rider errors, riding without a helmet, careless and rash handling of the two-wheelers, as well as device malfunction which, to be honest, are few and far between.
That said, the terms of service that you are required to accept on the app before you can actually book a ride say all responsibility of any eventuality during rides is the sole responsibility of the user and the company is not liable in any way.
Section 7.4.3. of Lime’s User Agreement and TOS explicitly says:
“You agree that riding the Products involves many obvious and not-so-obvious risks, dangers, and hazards, which may result in injury or death to You or others, as well as damage to property, and that such risks, dangers, and hazards cannot always be predicted or avoided.”
Similarly, clause 15 of Bird’s rental agreement under “RELEASES;
DISCLAIMERS; ASSUMPTION OF RISK” reads:
“Rider is solely and fully responsible for the safe operation of Vehicle at all times. Rider agrees that Vehicles are machines that may malfunction, even if the Vehicle is properly maintained and that such malfunction may cause injury. Rider assumes full and complete responsibility for all related risks, dangers, and hazards.”
One case of a device-glitch involved 63-year-old Pat Brogan who told CNET that the brakes on her Lime scooter failed to engage on a steep hill, resulting in a crash that landed her on a hospital bed with multiple fractures.
Her $8,000 claim on the company is still unpaid, which the company spokesman declined to comment on when questioned by CNET, towing the company line that its agreement was “designed to be user friendly, and is written in plain language so that our riders are properly informed.”
“Sometimes accidents do happen, which is why we have insurance policies and processes in place to support our riders and investigate all incidents,” he told the website.
Despite her ordeal, Brogan is still upbeat about the concept of electric-scooters, albeit with some misgivings.
“It’s a great concept,” she told CNET. “But it’s not ready for prime time.”
User agreements notwithstanding, lawyers across the country continue to get numerous calls from people injured in scooter accidents, says CNET.
Catherine Lerer, an attorney at the Santa Monica law firm McGee, Lerer and Associates, told the website that “no one has ever read that user agreement” – she couldn’t have been more right as hardly anyone ever does.
Lerer who had been getting at least three to four calls a day decided it was time to do something about it and filed a class-action lawsuit against Bird, Lime, Xiaomi and Segway as recently as October.
Filed on behalf of nine clients, the lawsuit lists fifteen counts of “aiding and abetting assaults and gross negligence” on the part of the four companies mentioned, reports CNET.
“Over and over, it’s the same malfunctions that I’m hearing — the brakes failing, the throttle sticks and the scooter dies midride,” Lerer told the website. “Something is not right.”
Xiaomi and Segway didn’t respond to CNET’s requests for comment.
Meanwhile, a Bird spokeswoman who agreed to speak to the website about the lawsuit said: “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 US.”