Electric Scooter Liability in Atlanta
If I get hit by a scooter, who will pay for the medical bills? The answer is complicated, but the analysis is important as Bird and Lime and Spin are the electric scooter rental companies taking over the city of Atlanta.
The new electric scooter companies are “dockless” and allow riders to pick up and abandon scooters wherever and whenever they like. The company does not have to pay for the privilege of parking the scooters and riders benefit from multiple access points to transportation.
There are helmet and age requirements but the truth is these companies cannot control who accesses the scooters and whether they are operating safely.
How will injury claims with scooters be handled? While this is a developing area of law, the old rules will still apply. If someone operates a scooter negligently and hits a pedestrian, then they have legal liability (they owe damages, if any). The liability analysis is pretty simple and will include very familiar concepts of speed, keeping a lookout, route selection, and braking.
This is the real problem with these claims. Let’s take a look at several scenarios.
THE RIDER HAS CAR INSURANCE
If the rider hits a pedestrian, does their car insurance policy provide coverage to the injured person? For now, probably yes, depending on the policy language. Most insurance policy liability clauses define what is covered to include motor vehicles designed for use on public roads, which scooters arguably are. There has been some litigation over golf carts and most courts have said they are not covered because they are not designed for use on public roads, but scooters are. I foresee policy language updates coming to exclude these coverages, but the legislature might take action that would change this.
THE RIDER DOES NOT OWN A CAR
In this situation, the victim will have to look to any uninsured motorist insurance that they may carry on their own car policy. Read on for that analysis.
Does My Uninsured Motorist Insurance Cover Being Hit by a Scooter?
For now, probably yes. Georgia is a little cloudy on this but based on the text from the case below, it would seem logical that because scooters are driven on the street and are motorized, you are protected by your uninsured motorist coverage from damages when the operator has no insurance coverage. Remember uninsured motorist insurance is there to act as liability insurance to protect you when you are injured by an uninsured motor vehicle. It follows you around as a pedestrian, in other people’s cars, and on your bike. It is a force field against other people doing stupid things. Make sure you check your car insurance coverage and add it in an even amount to your liability limits and choose the “excess” or “added on variety”, not the “reduced by” or “difference in limits” type.
“Given this purpose, it is clear that the term “motor vehicle,” for purposes of the uninsured motorist statute, must include at least two classes of motor vehicles: (1) Motor vehicles that are designed primarily for use on the public roads and are required by law to be covered by liability insurance; and (2) motor vehicles that are not designed primarily for use on the public roads and are not required to have liability insurance, but which at the time of an accident are being operated on the public roads like a vehicle designed primarily for that purpose. 8 The former must be included because, when an owner of such a motor vehicle fails to purchase liability insurance, the motor vehicle poses a significant financial threat to innocent motorists. The latter must be included for the same reason. In this regard, when a motor vehicle that is not required to be covered by liability insurance and is not designed primarily for use on the public roads is nevertheless driven on the public roads in the same manner as a vehicle that is designed for that use, the driver of that vehicle circumvents the required insurance laws just as surely as a motorist who drives a motor vehicle[267 Ga. 519] required to be covered by insurance but who fails to purchase it. Moreover, such a motorist poses the same risk of financial danger to innocent motorists as a person who operates a motor vehicle which must be insured under the laws of this State but is not. As the uninsured motorist act is designed to protect innocent motorists from irresponsible drivers, the term “motor vehicle” should be construed broadly to cover both of the foregoing circumstances.”
Hinton v. Interstate Guar. Ins. Co., 480 S.E.2d 842, 267 Ga. 516 (Ga., 1997)
The court continued on… “Further, in Chase v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Ins. Co., 11 the Arizona Supreme Court faced the issue of whether a golf cart that was designed for use of public highways could be excluded from the uninsured motorist coverage in an insurance policy without violating the uninsured motorist statute. Like the Georgia uninsured motorist statute, the Arizona statute did not define the term “motor vehicle.” Reasoning that the uninsured motorist statute was designed to protect motorists on the public highway, the Arizona Supreme Court adopted the analysis of the North Carolina Court of Appeals in Autry, concluding that the Arizona uninsured motorist statute should protect motorists from ” ‘motor vehicles which should be insured but are not, and motor vehicles which, though not subject to compulsory [267 Ga. 520] insurance are at some time operated on the public highways.'”
12. Having adopted this analysis, the Court concluded that a policy could exclude a golf cart designed for use off the public highways for accidents occurring off the public highways.
13. Moreover, a leading commentator on uninsured motorist coverage has endorsed the position that the term “motor vehicles” should include motor vehicles which are not subject to compulsory insurance but which are involved in accidents while “being operated on the public roads. Such a result would, of course, be consistent with what most observers and courts have viewed as an appropriate implementation of the public policy underlying the statutory mandate for the uninsured motorist coverage.”
Hinton v. Interstate Guar. Ins. Co., 480 S.E.2d 842, 267 Ga. 516 (Ga., 1997)
As scooters are used more and more, the braking systems wear down and these companies are developing maintenance plans on the fly. In a situation where the scooter has defective brakes, there would likely be a bailment claim against the scooter company itself, if that was shown to be the cause of the crash.
Claims for Scooter being Left in Dangerous Places
This is going to be messy. A rider might leave a Bird scooter on the sidewalk parked and the wind then blows it over. Along comes a pedestrian and trips over it. Who is responsible? I suspect that because these companies are dockless, the courts are going to shift the blame onto them arguing that you are making a profit by leaving these scooters on public property and it is foreseeable that they would be left in dangerous positions. I imagine that the legislature will eventually create premises liability against the companies as they could use docking stations if they wanted to. You make a profit by not having to invest in infrastructure, but if you create a hazard, you are liable.
Claims for Being Hurt by Broken Pavement on a Scooter
We are already hearing from riders being thrown when they hit broken pavement or potholes. If you are riding in the roadway, potholes and cracks that are no problem for bikes and cars can be deadly for scooters. The legal liability of the City and State comes down to how long the pavement had been in the broken condition and whether they had notice and time to repair it.
If you are riding on the sidewalk and you hit broken pavement, there is no case. It is illegal to ride bikes or scooters on the sidewalk and we are pretty close to having them banned on the beltline.