Personal Injuries and Dockless Vehicles: Insurance No Man's Land
Cities from Dallas to Austin and San Diego to Denver have been running to catch up with the influx of short-term rentals of dockless bikes and motorized scooters.
The Dallas City Council in June passed its bike share ordinance setting regulations for the short-term biked rentals AND laid out a pilot program for electric scooters. Even in the short time that the scooters have been available for rent in Dallas, injuries have been reported raising the question of who is responsible and what the liabilities are surrounding these rentals.
Here are four things you need to know about scooter rental and your potential for liability.
What are the safety risks? While it is highly recommended that renters wear helmets when operating the scooters and bikes, most users don’t carry helmets around with them at all times and the rental companies don’t provide them. Per Dallas City Code, only minors have to wear helmets on scooters and bikes, and minors can’t even rent the short-term scooters. That means that the majority of people riding the dockless scooters and rental bikes AREN’T wearing helmets. Should you be injured while riding a scooter or rental bike, your injuries could be more serious if you aren’t wearing a helmet and there are few liability protections in place to help you financially if you are seriously injured.
If an individual renter is injured or the rider injures another person such as a pedestrian, who bears the financial responsibility?
The typical rental agreement includes a waiver releasing the rental company from liability. Similarly to a driver renting a car and getting into an accident, the operator is usually responsible, not the rental company. Bike and scooter companies usually set protections for themselves and put the financial liability for any injuries on the renter, a sort of let the buyer beware situation. If you injure another person, you or your insurance company would be financially liable. That being said, every insurance policy is different. Your insurance company may not cover you on a rented specialty vehicle such as a dockless scooter. In some states, the rental companies are required by state law to notify users that they may not be covered by their insurance policies prior to renting the devices. Limit your financial risk by checking with your insurance company before renting and operating a dockless scooter or bike to find out what your coverage options are.
Can the city or the rental company be held liable for my injuries?
Thanks to the city of Dallas’ bike and scooter share ordinance, the companies are required in their insurance policies to indemnify the city of Dallas of any liability. Furthermore, most rental companies require users to acknowledge a liability waiver prior to activating their rentals. This means that if you get injured, you may be stuck without the ability to seek damages from the rental company itself. You would have to file a claim against the insurance company, not the city or the rental company. That being said, even with a pre-rental liability waiver, the rental company may be liable if a court could determine the rental company acted with gross negligence. Examples might include failing to properly maintain the scooters. While the state has a specific definition of gross negligence, in reality, negligence is determined by a jury’s finding so it can vary wildly from case to case.
How are renters educated on safe operation of the motorized scooters?
While it varies from company to company, many have information about safe operation posted on their websites, apps and on the devices themselves informing people of safe operations. Renters are responsible to educate themselves on safe handling and to obey all traffic laws.
In general, dockless vehicles must abide by the same traffic laws as cars. Unfortunately, motorized scooters are more likely than cars to be involved in a crash resulting in a severe injury or fatality. Drivers are rarely trained on how to use them, and some may be under the influence of alcohol. Take these concerns into consideration if you regularly use rental bikes or dockless scooters.