Electric scooters have become a popular mode of transportation in numerous U.S. cities and Europe. For many people, scooters are a convenient and inexpensive way to get around town. However, electric scooters (e-scooters) can cause serious injuries to riders and members of the public. They can also create risks for employers if their workers use e-scooters while on the job.
How Electric Scooters Work
Scooter-sharing companies like Lime, Bird, and Skip provide battery-powered e-scooters in cities across the U.S. including densely populated areas like New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago. Most are two-wheeled vehicles with a platform for standing and they’re often equipped with GPS technology so their locations can be tracked. Customers can use a smartphone app to locate a scooter and rent one with a credit card. Electric scooters are dockless, so users can park them virtually anywhere once their ride has ended.
Before renting an e-scooter, a rider must accept the rental firm's user agreement. The agreements vary by company but typically require riders to be at least 18 years old. Many recommend (but don't require) that riders wear helmets.
- Virtually all user agreements (including those used by Lime, Bird, and Skip) contain waiver of liability and assumption of risk clauses.
- Riders consent to assuming the risks inherent in electric scooter-riding.
- Riders agree that they, not the rental firm, will be liable for any injuries they sustain as well as any injuries or property damage they cause to third parties while using the e-scooter.
- Users accept liability for any damage they cause to the electric scooter itself.
- Agreements bar riders from engaging in risky behavior like racing, trick riding or stunting.
A few states and some cities have passed legislation specific to e-scooters. Some cities require scooter rental firms to secure a permit before operating there. Scooter laws typically specify where and how scooters may be used. Many prohibit riders from using the vehicles on sidewalks or on certain types of roads. For instance, a Denver law bars electric scooter use on sidewalks unless there is no designated bike lane or the posted speed limit is over 30 miles per hour.
Some cities haven't passed legislation specific to e-scooters even though companies are operating there. However, in most jurisdictions, e-scooters are generally subject to the laws governing vehicles.
Risks of Electric Scooters For Employers
E-scooters create risks for employers if their workers use the vehicles to perform job-related duties. Here are a few that may apply.
Workers who ride scooters may be injured if the vehicle overturns or collides with another object. A study conducted in 2018 by the Austin Public Health Department and the CDC showed that electric scooter injuries are often serious. The researchers reviewed medical records of 192 people who were injured in electric scooter-related accidents in Austin. They determined that nearly half of the victims sustained a serious injury like a bone fracture or organ damage. Nearly half (48%) sustained a head injury.
Third-Party Injuries or Damage
Employers are vicariously liable for negligent acts committed by their employees. Thus, an employer could be liable for third-party bodily injury or property damage that a worker causes while using a e-scooter on the employer's behalf. A worker could cause injuries or damage by colliding with a person or object. Alternatively, the worker could cause someone else to trip-and-fall by parking the scooter in an unsafe manner. An employer might also be liable for fines incurred by an employee for violating a law, such as an ordinance prohibiting scooters on sidewalks.
Damage to the Scooter
The rider is liable for any damage he or she causes to the scooter. Because employers are liable for negligent acts of employees, an employer might be liable for property damage to the scooter caused by the employee’s negligence.
Business insurance policies may not address scooters specifically. Depending on the circumstances, some electric scooter-related injuries may be covered while others may not.
Workers Comp and Health Policies
Job-related electric scooter injuries that workers may sustain should be covered under the employer's workers compensation policy. Injuries that aren't job-related should be covered by workers' health insurance policies.
General Liability and Commercial Auto Policies
Suppose a worker is using a scooter to run an errand for their boss when they accidentally injure a third party. The injured party sues the employer, alleging it is vicariously liable for the employee’s negligence. Will the claim be covered by the employer's commercial auto policy or general liability policy? The answer isn’t clear.
Business auto policies are intended to cover accidents involving autos. This term generally refers to motor vehicles (like cars, trucks, and certain types of machinery) that are subject to compulsory insurance laws. E-scooters aren't governed by such laws in most states, so they may not qualify as autos.
Electric scooter-related accidents might be covered under the employer's general liability policy if e-scooters are considered mobile equipment. Yet, this seems doubtful since scooters don't appear to fit any of the categories of vehicles outlined in the definition of mobile equipment.
Electric scooter riders are unlikely to find coverage for scooter-related accidents under their personal auto or homeowners policies. Many personal auto policies exclude liability coverage for the ownership or use of any vehicle that has less than four wheels. Homeowners policies typically contain broad vehicle exclusions under liability coverage.
The laws, the courts, and the insurance industry are often slow to respond to new technology, and this may be the case with electric scooters. Relatively few laws specific to e-scooters have been passed. Moreover, few (if any) courts have issued rulings regarding coverage for electric scooter-related accidents under business or personal insurance policies. Until the situation changes, business owners may want to consider prohibiting their employees from using scooters while on the job.