Establishing Some Law & Order in the Wild, Wild Midwest of Electric Scooters (and Rights for the People Injured by Them)
Downtown Indianapolis sure looks different than it did last summer.
I don’t know about you, but I remember a time way, way back in… the spring… when people walked around on two legs and a pair of feet.
But then the scooters came.
Now we’re living in a brave new world of novelty transit, with everyone from the care-to-the-wind tourist to the suit-and-tie business elite hopping aboard a scooter and reaching their downtown destinations marginally sooner.
Stepping back and taking it all in, it’s one of those sights that make you say, “What a time to be alive.”
As fun and transformative as the whole scene can seem, though, there’s a serious side we must consider. These things aren’t without peril, and already, someone’s been hurt. What if that happens again? It very well might.
Who should be responsible?
What regulations and/or sanctions should the law impose?
Do victims have rights? Do riders have responsibilities?
Indianapolis city leaders have tried to answer those questions already, but not without blowback, and the issues are far from settled.
This article will endeavor to size up the situation as it stands now and describe, in general terms, victims’ rights after an electric scooter injury in Indianapolis.
A Crash Course in Indianapolis Public Scooter History
They came without warning. Like the plagues of scripture, electric scooters arrived in downtown Indianapolis in a mighty swarm.
Two companies, Lime and Bird, brought their product to the streets without permission earlier this summer. (Granted, it wasn’t entirely clear that they needed permission.) Within a few weeks, their collective fleet numbered in excess of 500.
In what must be one of the most successful Indiana service launches in recent history, the townspeople and tourists took to them so quickly that a newcomer might swear it was a longstanding way of life here.
The city scrambled to keep pace with this out-of-nowhere hullabaloo, asking both companies to call it quits — temporarily — while leaders worked out a little law and order. Both Lime and Bird demurred, but eventually agreed to desist in mid-July.
The whole thing plays out in the Indianapolis Star archives, with chronological entries here, here, and here, for those who want a more detailed play-by-play.
Now it’s September and they’re back again.
This time, there are rules. But those rules are largely untested. So what do they mean for you, whether you’re a rider or simply in a rider’s path?
We look at three hypotheticals below.
What If You’re Hit by a Car While Riding a Scooter?
Unfortunately, this has already happened — right here in Indianapolis.
The Star reports that an unidentified man driving a Bird electric scooter on a city sidewalk was injured on Tuesday, September 4, 2018 when a car pulled out of a garage and struck him. He was not wearing a helmet at the time.
The man survived but suffered undisclosed injuries. It was the first electric scooter accident reported in the Indianapolis area.
In terms of liability, the question in this case — as in almost all auto accident cases — will be whether either party was negligent.
Electric scooters are considered motor vehicles in Indianapolis. City code prohibits the operation of scooters on sidewalks and pedestrian trails such as the Monan and Cultural Trail. The code does not specifically require that scooter drivers wear a helmet, but a city advisory strongly recommends it.
Because Indiana observes a legal doctrine known as contributory negligence, if the injured scooter-er were to file a personal injury claim, a court (or the parties, by way of a private settlement) would have to assign a percentage of fault to each party. If the victim is less than 51% at fault, his financial recovery will be reduced by his percentage of the fault. If he’s assigned 51% or more, he can’t recover at all — and the other party could then seek reimbursement of their reasonable legal fees.
The takeaway for scooter operators in Indianapolis is this: while the rules on scooter usage are brand-new and still in flux, the general rules of negligence and liability still apply.
Bottom line: if you’re injured while riding a scooter by a motorist who is negligent (that is, driving recklessly, speeding, texting, etc.), you are entitled to compensation for your damages.
What If a Pedestrian Is Injured by Someone on an Electric Scooter?
Clocking in at 15 miles per hour, electric scooters are fast enough to cause serious injury to pedestrians. Sadly, it may be only a matter of time.
Here again, the standard is negligence. If a pedestrian is injured by someone who is operating a scooter negligently, he or she will be entitled to compensation for their injuries.
What constitutes negligent scooter use? Unfortunately, the law doesn’t move quite as quickly as the scooters themselves, so we don’t yet have a substantial body of precedent to define negligence in this specific technological context (and in our jurisdiction).
But the general principles of negligence still apply. In other words, the million-dollar question is: whether a reasonable person would have operated the scooter in the same way under similar circumstances?
Failing to yield the right of way, ignoring traffic signals, riding scooters on sidewalks, or using a cell phone while operating a motor vehicle are all common examples of negligence. It isn’t difficult to imagine someone on a scooter committing those same violations and causing pedestrian injury as a result.
If you’ve been injured by a scooter driver, you should talk with an attorney who has vast and specific experience in Indianapolis auto accident claims. Our office can help.
What If Your Injury Is Caused by a Defective Scooter?
In these cases, the scooter companies themselves (e.g. Bird, Lime, etc.) might be liable for the damages. Under Indiana product liability law, companies are responsible for defects in the manufacture or design of their products. They can also be held accountable for a failure to provide adequate safety warnings and/or instructions.
Indeed, the companies’ liability for scooter accidents is another legal issue that has not yet been fully explored in Indianapolis — but if you have a claim, an experienced personal injury lawyer can help.
For that matter, these corporations may share in the liability for other types of accidents too, including those described above (involving other vehicles or pedestrians).
Free Consultation with an Indianapolis Accident Lawyer
Unfortunately, much of the city’s regulatory developments have been focused on making money off the scooter craze and managing day-to-day practical concerns, like where to park them (an important issue, to be sure).
But much more still can be done to protect the residents and tourists of Indianapolis from the not-unlikely risk of harm.
For example, several other scooter-happy cities and states now mandate helmet usage and provide penalties for violating scooter traffic law.
Nevertheless, electric scooter accident victims do have rights in Indianapolis, and our office is prepared to protect them. If you or someone you love has been hurt in connection with a public scooter in the state of Indiana, please contact our office for a free consultation right away.