When clusters of Bird rental electric scooters appeared overnight on sidewalks in Virginia Beach and Norfolk a few months ago, officials in both cities moved quickly to impound the scooters and fine the scooter company. Now, the scooters are back in limited use. Already, they are causing accidents and injuries, raising an important question: What is the law regarding liability for injuries from rental electric scooter accidents in Virginia?
Electric Scooters Pose Substantial Risks to Pedestrians and Motorists As Well As Riders
As rental electric scooter appear in cities all over the United States, scooter accident and injury reports proliferate across the country. In September 2018, a scooter rider in Washington, DC died as the result of a collision with an SUV — the second nationally reported fatality (the first was in Dallas).
Electric scooters pose risks to pedestrians, motorists, and others, in addition to putting scooter operators themselves at risk. Motorists encounter scooters operating in streets and roadways, as well as in crosswalks. Because scooter riders often ignore traffic regulations and crosswalk rules — and surprise unsuspecting motorists in the blink of an eye — collisions involving vehicles and rental electric scooters occur everywhere the scooters operate.
Pedestrian injuries often result from sidewalk or crosswalk collisions with a scooter. Pedestrians also suffer injuries from slip-and-fall or trip-and-fall accidents that occur when a scooter rider leaves an abandoned scooter randomly on a sidewalk or property.
Electric scooter riders face a substantial risk of life-threatening or life-altering injuries. While scooter companies recommend wearing a helmet, few riders do. Nationwide, reports of accidents involving head injuries — including traumatic brain injuries — are common. Other frequently reported rider injuries include broken bones, complex fractures, dislocated joints, and back injuries, as well as deep cuts and abrasions.
Electric scooter accidents involving pedestrians and vehicles can have a number of different causes, including scooter operator error and failure to abide by traffic signals and regulations. Sometimes scooter injuries also result from collisions with bicycles, dog bites or attacks from a dog startled by a scooter, and loss of control by the scooter operator because of conditions like potholes, uneven sidewalks, and gravel or debris on the sidewalk or roadway.
Virginia Laws and Regulations For Electric Scooters and Mopeds
The Virginia Motor Vehicle Code § 46.2-904 gives local governments authority to regulate use of electric scooters on sidewalks and in crosswalks — and local officials in the Hampton Roads region moved quickly as soon as rental electric scooters appeared on sidewalks without prior permission.
In Norfolk, the unannounced appearance of Bird scooters caught city officials off guard, especially since city officials reportedly already were in talks with a different vendor about bringing scooters to the city. As of early 2019, Norfolk is considering a one-year pilot program to allow rental electric scooters in the city.
After impounding the initial clusters of scooters, Virginia Beach moved swiftly to regulate use, issuing a memorandum governing where and how rental companies and riders may operate. According to a memo from the city:
“[M]otorized scooters may not be lawfully operated on the Boardwalk, the adjacent bike path, the adjacent grassy areas or the connector parks in the Resort Area. Similarly, it is unlawful for any person to ride a motorized scooter on any sidewalk or plaza in Town Center.”
The city continues to impound scooters left unattended in prohibited areas or that interfere with pedestrian or vehicle traffic.
The same section of state law that empowers local governments to act also requires the operator of an electric scooter on a sidewalk or shared-use path or across a roadway on a crosswalk to “yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian and give an audible signal before overtaking and passing any pedestrian.” In addition, the statute provides that an electric scooter rider has “all the rights and duties of a pedestrian under the same circumstances.” That means scooter riders on sidewalk and in crosswalks must comply with traffic signals regulating crosswalks, just as pedestrians do.
When an electric scooter is operating in the street or on a roadway, different rules apply. An electric scooter qualifies as a moped under Virginia law. The vehicle code provides:
“Moped” means every vehicle that travels on not more than three wheels in contact with the ground that (i) has a seat that is no less than 24 inches in height, measured from the middle of the seat perpendicular to the ground; (ii) has a gasoline, electric, or hybrid motor that (a) displaces 50 cubic centimeters or less or (b) has an input of 1500 watts or less; (iii) is power-driven, with or without pedals that allow propulsion by human power; and (iv) is not operated at speeds in excess of 35 miles per hour. For purposes of this title, a moped shall be a motorcycle when operated at speeds in excess of 35 miles per hour. For purposes of Chapter 8 (§ 46.2-800 et seq.) [Virginia motor vehicle laws], a moped shall be a vehicle while operated on a highway.
Under this provision, an electric scooter operated on a street is subject to all rules and statutes that apply to other vehicles, as well as moped laws. Of special interest to scooter riders, that includes a specific law (at Virginia Code § 46.2-1078) that prohibits drivers of motor vehicles and mopeds from using earphones or earbuds in both ears while driving or riding.
Issues Relating to Liability For Injuries From Rental Electric Scooter Accidents in Virginia
When a rental electric scooter collides with a pedestrian, bicycle, or motor vehicle, Virginia personal injury rules of negligence determine responsibility and liability for compensating victims for their injuries. The state’s contributory negligence rule also applies.
The process of recovering for injuries in a scooter accident is usually similar to recovering compensation for injuries in an auto accident. It requires investigating the accident and analyzing the facts and to determine who is at fault, as well as filing a claim with the responsible person’s insurance company. In cases of severe injuries, the victim should retain an experienced personal injury lawyer to pursue full compensation for injuries received in a rental electric scooter accident.
For rental electric scooter riders who suffer injuries, there are complicating factors. A defective or improperly maintained scooter can cause an accident. If that possibility arises, product liability law comes into play.
There is a legal twist in trying to hold a rental scooter company liable for accident injuries. When a rider rents a scooter, the required user agreement typically contains a liability waiver.
By including liability waivers in user agreements, scooter rental companies attempt to insulate themselves against liability for injuries. In accepting the terms, riders agree to waive the right to file a lawsuit for injuries and to submit claims to binding arbitration. At least one company’s user agreement also includes a waiver of the right to participate in class action lawsuits.
Virginia courts have not yet considered whether these liability waivers in scooter rental agreements are enforceable in the state. Virginia courts already hold pre-injury liability waivers invalid and unenforceable in some circumstances. How those rules will apply in electric scooter cases is unknown at this time. Undoubtedly, a scooter injury case eventually will present the issue to the courts.
While the future for rental electric scooters in Hampton Roads is somewhat unclear, one thing is very clear: If you receive injuries as a pedestrian, bicyclist, motorist, or scooter rider in an accident involving an electric scooter, you may be entitled to compensation under Virginia personal injury law.
Parties potentially liable for compensating you include the driver of a motor vehicle, the scooter rider/operator, scooter company, or another party whose conduct caused the accident. When your injuries are significant, you should consult with a knowledgeable personal injury attorney about pursuing compensation.
Talk With an Experienced Virginia Beach Personal Injury Attorney Lawyer
If you received serious injuries in an accident involving an electric scooter and another person may be at fault, Virginia Beach personal injury attorney Jeffrey Brooke is here to help. The Jeff Brooke Team always keeps your and your family’s best interests at heart and aggressively pursues your case to get the full compensation you deserve.
Jeff Brooke is a personal injury attorney devoted to helping individuals who have suffered serious and catastrophic injuries or lost a loved one because of someone else’s negligent and careless actions. The Jeff Brooke Team serves all of southeastern Virginia. The firm helps clients in the Greater Tidewater and Greater Hampton Roads areas, including in Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, and Chesterfield. The Jeff Brooke Team also handles cases in northeastern North Carolina, including the Outer Banks.