You stop at your local florist to buy some flowers on your way home from work. You exit the store and as you are walking to your car, you are clobbered from behind by someone illegally riding a shared electric scooter on the sidewalk.
Knocked to the ground, you are in shock and your leg hurts. You look around and see the person who ran into you pick up the electric scooter and ride away. At least you saw the color and brand markings on the scooter. A good Samaritan helps you get up, but you can’t walk due to pain in your knee. Your spouse arrives and takes you to the hospital where you are told you’ve torn up ligaments and cartilage and will require surgery followed by weeks of therapy. You won’t be able to return to work for six to eight weeks and you likely will have degenerative changes in your knee that you otherwise would not have had without the trauma.
Your active lifestyle is now changed (though the accident could be more tragic, like this recent Venice Beach, California incident, where a 91-year-old man walking on the sidewalk was killed by an electric scooter which struck him, causing him to hit his head on the pavement).
Electric Scooters & California Law
Although the introduction of shared electric scooters onto the streets of California was met with controversy, with some cities banning them (e.g., Beverly Hills) and others opting to allow them with regulations (Los Angeles), they appear to be here to stay.
In fact, the state has formally declared its support for electric motorized scooters as an alternative low-emission or no-emission form of transportation, see California Vehicular Code Section 21220.
But the question of who pays for the medical bills, lost income and physical and mental changes in life suffered by the accident victim or their loved ones is more complicated than it seems at first blush. Although there can be other sources of recovery, the major ones are the careless scooter rider, the scooter rental company as owner of the scooter, and possibly the auto insurance of the victim.
Holding the scooter rider responsible is the most obvious and fair place to start but as my mother used to tell me, sometimes life isn’t fair. The initial stumbling block is that although an electric scooter looks like a “motor vehicle” in that it is a vehicle propelled (Veh. Code § 415) by an electric motor, and therefore subject to the motor vehicle registration and financial responsibility laws, it is not.
California Veh. Code § 21224(a) provides an exemption, stating “A person operating a motorized scooter is not subject to the provisions of this code relating to financial responsibility, registration, and license plate requirements, and for those purposes, a motorized scooter is not a motor vehicle.”
The reference to the financial responsibility rules refers to California laws which generally require motor vehicles to be registered with the State, have a vehicle license, and are required to be insured for at least $15,000 per person and $30,000 per accident with a minimum of $5,000 for property damage.
An electric scooter is basically treated the same as a bicycle. Consequently, electric scooter riders can be, and frequently are, uninsured for their negligent actions that hurt and damage others. Without available insurance, it is very difficult to recover significant money from an uninsured person.
Can Homeowner’s Insurance Cover Scooter Injuries?
If the careless scooter rider happens to own a home covered by homeowner’s insurance, that policy may be a source of money to pay for the damages suffered by the injured victim.
Depending on the language used in the insurance contract, homeowner’s insurance can provide protection to both the scooter rider and the rider’s victim. For example, a typical homeowner’s policy generally provides coverage for injury claims made against the homeowner for bodily injury caused by an accident. A common exclusion provides that there is no homeowner’s liability coverage for any motor vehicle liability if at the time of the accident, the involved motor vehicle “is registered for use on public roads or property” or is not registered when registration is required by law.
Since electric scooters are not required to be registered, the homeowner’s insurance in this example would provide both liability and medical payments to the injured victim. Again, it all depends on the specific language of the insurance contract, and it can get complicated. Moreover, it’s only helpful if the negligent electric scooter rider has homeowner’s insurance, and many riders do not.
Are Scooter Companies Liable?
Although a claim can be pursued against an uninsured scooter rider, with little to no chance of obtaining payment due to lack of available and reachable assets and availability of bankruptcy, most attorneys will not take on the case unless there is another viable responsible party.
The owner of the electric scooter, that is the rental company (e.g., Lime, Jump, Bird, Jump, Lyft, Spin, Razor), may also be a source of recovery if, for example, poor maintenance or a mechanical or design defect contributed to the crash. Failure to verify a rider’s qualifications may also be a basis of recovery, if for example, the rental company failed to verify the rider’s driver’s license thus allowing an underaged person access to unlock and ride the scooter.
Scooter rental agreements, however, create roadblocks to recovery. Common clauses say the rider releases the rental company of any liability, waive the right to a jury trial, etc.
Because an electric scooter is exempt from California motor vehicle registration requirements, Veh. Code § 17150, which imposes liability on the owner of the motor vehicle for permitting another person to use the motor vehicle (permissive use liability), is not applicable. Under this section, ownership “liability is determined by the registration record and certain transfer procedures prescribed by the Vehicle Code.” See Laureano v. Christensen (1971) 18 Cal.App.3d 515, 519.
Other Potential Parties
A third source of money to pay for the victim’s damages may be the victim’s own auto insurance, specifically the uninsured motorist and medical payments coverages.
Uninsured motorist insurance allows insured motorists to take advantage of a clause in their auto insurance policies to protect themselves from accidents involving uninsured or financially irresponsible motorists. According to the latest Insurance Research Council survey , 16.6 percent, or one in six drivers in California, are uninsured.
California law requires every auto insurer to offer uninsured motorist insurance, but it remains an optional coverage. Unfortunately, many drivers fail to appreciate the risk of having an accident involving an uninsured motorist and don’t purchase the coverage even though it is relatively cheap. For victims of a careless scooter rider’s negligence, however, it may be the best source of monetary compensation.
As with homeowner’s insurance policies, the words used in the contract matter and some policies are more generous than others. The opportunity for coverage arises when the insurance company uses language and terms which differ from the language and terms found in the law governing uninsured motorist insurance.
California Insurance Code Section 11580.2 sets forth the minimum requirements for uninsured motorist insurance. State Ins. Code § 11580.06 narrowly defines a “motor vehicle” as “any vehicle designed for use principally upon streets and highways and subject to motor vehicle registration under the laws of this state.”
Since an electric motor scooter is not subject to the registration laws of California, it does not meet the definition of an uninsured “motor vehicle” at least under this Insurance Code section. Yet a commonly used policy form uses different language, broadly defining an “uninsured motor vehicle” as a “land motor vehicle or trailer of any type”.
It is well established that auto insurers cannot offer less than the minimum requirements for uninsured motorist insurance. It is also well settled that auto insurers can intentionally or unintentionally provide more than the minimum requirements.
“The rights of the parties are to be determined by the terms of their policy, provided such policy grants benefits equal to or greater than is required by the Uninsured Motorist Act . . . The insurer by contract may assume a liability in respect of uninsured motorists beyond that required by statute.” – Lumberman’s Mut. Cas. Co. v. Wyman supra, 64 Cal.App.3d 252, 256.
Equally important, less favorable provisions found in the insurance code are not incorporated or imputed into the insurance policy to defeat payments otherwise due.
“Therefore, if section 11580.2’s coverage provisions are less favorable to an insured than those which the insurer chose to write into its policy, the statutory provisions may not be read into the policy to the insured’s detriment, even where the statutory language appears mandatory.” – Utah Property & Casualty Ins. etc. Assn. v. United Services Auto. Assn. (1991) 230 Cal.App.3d 1010, 1018.
“Those cases held that where an insurer provides greater coverage than required under the law, the insurer may not rely on statutory restrictions on coverage that were not expressly incorporated into the insurance policy.” – Progressive Choice Ins. Co. v. California State Automobile Assn. Inter-Insurance Bureau (2013) 218 Cal.App.4th 1145, 1154.
Other jurisdictions have applied the same reasoning to virtually identical policy language. See: Norfolk and Dedham Mut. Fire Ins. Co. v. Wysocki (Conn. Super. Ct. 1996) 45 Conn.Supp. 144, 150 [702 A.2d 675, 677–679], aff’d (1997) 243 Conn. 239 [702 A.2d 638] and Hill v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. (1989) 237 Va. 148, 152 [375 S.E.2d 727, 729–730]. In short, not every insurance policy is written the same and it literally may pay to have an attorney review it for you.
What To Do If Injured By a Scooter Driver
The hard truth is that by exempting electric scooters from the requirements of the financial responsibility laws for motor vehicles, injured victims of careless and negligent electric scooter riders have to search for other types of insurance or look for a mechanical defect in order to find a source of money to pay for the medical bills, lost wages and often devastating changes in life style.
Unfortunately, many scooter riders will have no other insurance or ability to pay for damages, leaving a trail of broken bones, hospital and other medical bills, lost wages and permanently changed lives in their wake. One solution would be to require the scooter owner/rental company to provide liability insurance coverage to scooter riders to cover damages caused by the rider’s negligence. Until then, you will need to be proactive if you are unfortunately involved in an electric scooter crash due to the fault of the scooter rider or scooter owner. Here are some suggestions:
If you are hit by a careless scooter rider, or if you are injured because the scooter broke down or failed to operate as expected, you need to document the crash scene.
- Use your cell phone to photograph the electric scooter, any damage to it, and the rental identification, serial number, brand name and any stickers, warnings or other markings on the scooter.
- Obtain the scooter driver’s full name, address, telephone number and photograph the rider’s driver’s license.
- Photograph the scooter rider too. Request the rider’s insurance information, both auto and homeowner’s insurance including company name.
- Look for witnesses and obtain their contact information. Contact law enforcement and request a report be taken.
- California Uninsured law requires the injured victim to report the accident to law enforcement within 24 hours as a pre-condition for uninsured motorist payments.
- Get needed medical attention and document your injuries with photographs.
- Contact your insurance company immediately if you have uninsured motorist coverage and report the accident.
- Notify the scooter rental company of the accident and request their insurance information. If the scooter is defective or broke down, notify the scooter company of the problem. If the scooter rider refuses to identify themselves, request the information from the scooter rental company as they are required to verify the driver’s license used to unlock the scooter.
- Be careful with anything you share on social media as it will likely be found by the insurance company and their attorneys.
Contact a trusted injury attorney early to investigate the crash, advise you of your rights and obligations, and present your claim and file a lawsuit if necessary to obtain compensation for your medical expenses, lost income, emotional damage and life altering limitations.