A lawsuit targeting electric scooter-sharing companies seizes on the dangers of zipping around town on two wheels and brings gory detail to one of the more polarizing technology trends to emerge over the past year.
Nine people injured by electric scooters filed the class-action suit on Oct. 19 in Los Angeles County Superior Court. It accuses startups Bird Rides and Lime, and their manufacturers Xiaomi and Segway, of gross negligence, claiming the companies knew the scooters were dangerous and deployed them in a way that was certain to cause injuries.
Since e-scooters zoomed into the U.S. last September with the arrival of Bird, hundreds of riders and pedestrians have landed in the hospital with injuries ranging from severe gravel rash to knocked-out teeth, ripped-out toenails and detached biceps, according to doctors and victims.
Three people died last month while riding scooters in Dallas, Cleveland and Washington, D.C.
There is no official tally on the number of scooter-related injuries in the country, since hospitals code their patients based on the type of injury they are admitted with, rather than what caused it. But one metric Bird and Lime have been closely tracking is the number of rides their scooters have handled: more than 20 million combined and growing daily.
Electric scooters have appeared in more than 100 cities worldwide, with the startups aiming to usher in a new, environmentally friendly era of micro transportation. After a remarkable one-year ascent, Bird and Lime are now two of the youngest startups to earn unicorn status in Silicon Valley with valuations of $2 billion and $3 billion or more, respectively.
The rapid rise of the scooter revolution has been plagued by controversy, complaints and concussions. Citing fears over public safety, officials in some cities, including San Francisco and Santa Monica, have temporarily banned electric scooters and filed criminal complaints against the companies behind them for operating without a business permit. Some frustrated vigilante residents have tossed scooters into the ocean, buried them in the sand and even set them on fire.
According to the lawsuit, two of the plaintiffs were injured by tripping over scooters left discarded on the sidewalk, four were rammed into from behind as they walked, including a 7-year-old boy who suffered severe damage to eight of his front teeth and had to get his lip stitched back together. “These companies are putting profit over safety,” Catherine Lerer, the personal injury lawyer at McGee Lerer who represents the plaintiffs, said in an interview for Bloomberg’s Decrypted podcast.
Since filing the lawsuit, Lerer said an additional 75 people who have suffered from scooter injuries have contacted her, including a 67-year-old man with a brain injury.
Bird and Lime say safety is a top priority. But from their perspective, cars are the real transportation danger.
“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 U.S.,” a Bird spokesperson said in a written statement.
Lime said it could not comment on pending litigation, but in an interview on Bloomberg’s “Decrypted” podcast, Taylor Bennett, director of public affairs, said Lime has upgraded its scooters with new safety features three times in the past year. The latest version has bigger tires to take on potholes, brakes on the back wheel to prevent riders hurtling over the handlebars and dual suspension. The company is also handing out 250,000 helmets to its riders.
Wally Ghurabi, medical director of one of the emergency departments at UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica — ground zero for the scooter boom — said plastic surgeons have spent hours cleaning asphalt out of facial wounds to prevent gravel-rash tattoos.
“You can break your face, break your nose, break your facial bones, break your skull and bleed inside your skull,” Ghurabi said, ticking off some of the risks of electric scooters.
In June, Victor San Andres was hurled over the handlebars of his electric scooter when the front brakes malfunctioned as he was cruising downhill. He remembers “flying through the air” but said his mind has mercifully wiped out the moment his face collided with the pavement. He was knocked unconscious and suffered from severe facial lacerations, a broken pinkie and a ripped-out toenail.
San Andres, an online video producer, was injured in New York, where the scooter-sharing companies aren’t authorized to operate but some people have personal electric scooters. San Andres was given the scooter for free in exchange for uploading positive promotional scooter videos online. He isn’t a signatory on the class-action suit.