Electric scooters on a sidewalk

Nashville scooter injuries: little legal recourse

Nashville scooter injuries are a growing concern for local residents. Ask any Nashvillian for their biggest pet peeves about the growing city, and chances are good that “scooters” will top the list. Electric scooters, or “e-scooters”, are quickly replacing bicycles as the latest urban transportation craze. With thousands scattered across urban Nashville, they’re easy to find and simple to use: just download an app, add your credit card, and scan the scooter to activate it. When users reach their destination, they simply leave the scooter behind for the next user to ride, or for a company representative to collect it.

Nashville’s Metro Transportation Licensing Commission currently imposes a 1,000-scooter limit on each scooter provider operating within the city, and companies are required to start out with only 500. However, the number of scooter providers has steadily grown as the popularity of the devices increases, and each company is eager to supply the maximum scooters allowed.

Bird and Lime are the two predominant Nashville scooter companies, each with 1,000 scooters within the city limits. Spin, Jump (under Uber), and Lyft have released 500 scooters apiece, the initial limit for newer scooter companies, while Gotcha has released 250.

Nashville scooter injuries: 1 death in 2019

While many users laud e-scooters as a cheap, eco-friendly alternative form of transportation, others worry that the devices may cause more problems than they solve. A recent study by Consumer Reports found that at least eight people have died using e-scooters in the past two years alone, while at least 1,500 riders have been injured or hospitalized. One of the most unfortunate Nashville scooter injuries occurred when 26-year-old Brady Gaulke rode his scooter into the path of an SUV and later died from his injuries.

Gaulke’s death prompted a public outcry against scooters and their dangers, and Gaulke’s girlfriend started a petition which calls for a ban on the nearly 4,000 scooters in the urban Nashville area. The petition has nearly 2,500 signatures to date.

The backlash against e-scooters led to Mayor Briley penning an open letter to the scooter companies operating in Nashville. In late May, Briley threatened to push the state legislature for a scooter ban if the companies did not take measures to resolve public safety and sidewalk hazard concerns within 30 days.

On June 17, five scooter companies responded by sending a joint proposal to the mayor’s office. The proposal lists several safety recommendations that the scooter companies agreed to support, such as free helmets at community centers and “bike lane advocacy”. The companies have also agreed to a higher ratio of company representatives per 100 scooters, in order to clear sidewalks and monitor riders’ behavior.

Aside from hiring more representatives, however, it’s unclear from the letter what concrete steps the scooter companies intend to take to enforce these new safety policies, as well as existing ones. As the Tennessean notes, the largest source of frustration for most Nashvillians is not the lack of riding and parking regulations, but rather the lack of enforcement.

One major difficulty with enforcing e-scooter rules is that many riders are unclear about the laws regarding where and how to use the devices. In urban Nashville, many scooter users choose to ride along the sidewalks and walkways. While this practice keeps them out of the path of vehicles, it creates hazards for pedestrians and pets that share the sidewalks with fast-moving scooters.

Other scooter users choose to ride on bike lanes or the shoulders of roads. In response to Brady Gaulke’s death, Metro police publicly stated that scooters are actually subject to the same rule as bicycles: no riding on sidewalks. Unfortunately, many riders are either unaware of local rules, or feel safer riding on sidewalks than on bike lanes or in the midst of rush hour traffic.

E-scooters present another legal headache, particularly for those who are injured while riding: most scooters require users to agree to a waiver before accessing the scooter’s app, so that riders have little or no legal recourse against the scooter companies in the event of a malfunction-related injury. As noted in an article by Bloomberg Reports, most scooter users don’t read or understand the terms of these user agreements. Nonetheless, such waivers make it difficult–if not nearly impossible–to bring a personal injury suit against scooter providers.

Other individuals are significantly affected by urban scooter use without ever riding the scooters themselves. Disabled citizens–particularly those who require wheelchairs or who suffer visual impairments–find it difficult to navigate scooter-strewn sidewalks and to avoid oncoming scooters (some of which reach speeds of 15 miles per hour, as opposed to the average walking pace of 2 or 3).

Federal scooter lawsuit filed in San Diego

In a federal suit currently underway in San Diego, citizens have brought claims against scooter companies Lime, Bird, and Razor, as well as the city itself, for impeding disabled pedestrians by failing to control scooter traffic. The suit alleges that flagrant and improper scooter use (such as riding on sidewalks or dumping scooters in pedestrian thoroughfares) can create serious obstructions for those with limited mobility. The suit points out that the lack of penalties for such scooter use only encourages carelessness on the part of scooter riders.

While the San Diego lawsuit is still in its early stages, it is one of the first suits to address the urban scooter crisis from the perspective of frustrated, scooter-opposed citizens, and may set valuable precedent for other scooter-ridden areas like Nashville.

Call the Nashville scooter injuries attorneys at David Randolph Smith & Associates for more information.