When electric scooters zipped their way into Santa Monica in September 2017, people had mixed reactions. While some saw the two-wheeled contraptions as a convenient, green way to cut down on car trips, others were compelled to throw them in the ocean and set them on fire. To Catherine Lerer, a Santa Monica-based personal injury attorney, they simply looked like lawsuits waiting to happen. “I immediately thought, wow, these things look dangerous,” she says. “And sure enough, we started getting phone calls.”
Lerer says that over the past year and a half, the law firm she runs alongside her husband has received between 200 and 300 calls about scooter-related accidents, some of which have resulted in gnarly injuries like head trauma or broken bones. The firm’s website features a long list of such instances along with gruesome images of fractured bones, road-rashed skin, broken teeth, and extremities forced into unnatural positions (warning: they’re really gross). The couple have made the rounds in local media, vocally opposing companies like Bird and Lime.
Citing instances of collapsed handlebars, faulty breaks, and other malfunctioning equipment, Lerer claims that scooter companies are to blame the uptick in these injuries. “I lay the fault on these companies, who I think are not maintaining these scooters,” says Lerer. “They’re defectively designed.”
In October, the firm filed a class action lawsuit accusing Bird and Lime of “gross negligence” and “abetting assault,” and Lerer says they’re working on 40 to 50 individual cases as well. Several other L.A. law firms have also started specializing in scooter claims, too. But winning these cases isn’t easy. Most scooter companies’ user agreements require riders to waive liability before ever checking a machine out. “They say in the agreement, your client has assumed responsibility for any injury or damage caused by use of the scooter,” says Lerer.
There is also some uncertainty about what’s really causing the rash of crashes. A recent study published in JAMA Network Open confirms that scooter injuries have been outpacing bike and pedestrian industries at two Westside hospitals, but doesn’t mention instances of scooters malfunctioning—80 percent of the riders it surveyed simply fell off. The report does, however, note that less than 5 percent of riders were wearing helmets, something that recently became legal in California.
Some urbanists have attributed the high number of crashes to L.A.’s street design, which prioritizes cars over bike and scooter riders. In a statement to the L.A. Times, Bird pointed the blame at cars, noting that part of their mission was “to get cars off the road to make cities safer and more livable.”
Lerer doesn’t buy it. “I want people to know how dangerous these are,” she says. A mother of two, she says her fight against scooters is personal one—despite Lerer’s warnings, her 15-year-old daughter already suffered one close call. “She admitted to me that she and her best friend rode tandem on a scooter,” says Lerer. “The handlebar post collapsed on them and they both fell off. She was so traumatized by it she’s promised she would never ride one again.”
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