Whether you're a young couple breezing through a Design District apartment complex or Observer freelancer Danny Gallagher acting on a whim, there's a better than zero chance that when presented with cheap, two-wheeled motorized transportation on demand, you've given in. There's also a better than zero chance that once you've begun to scoot on your Lime or Bird scooter, you've wiped out.
Eating pavement, it seems, is an inevitable consequence for some scooter commuters, raising the question: Who's responsible for paying for all of these inevitable accidents?
In the vast majority of cases, Dallas attorney Chad Ruback says, the person who rents the scooter is liable for any injuries they sustain as a result of the ride. Same goes for injuries to someone the rider hits or any property damage caused.
"The renter of a scooter has a duty to be careful, just like the renter of a rental car does," Ruback says. "If someone rents a car and is a irresponsible driver, that's hardly the car rental company's fault."
Renting a Bird or Lime scooter or bike requires riders to do a couple of things that limit the company's responsibility. First, riders have to agree to a comprehensive user agreement, in which they promise that they are legally allowed to ride the bikes, will only use the bikes where they are allowed to be used and, in Lime's case, that they are "are familiar with the operation of the product, and are reasonably competent and physically fit to use the product." Lime and Bird also require that people hoping to unlock a scooter scan their driver's licenses to prove that they are of age and meet Dallas city requirements.
If a user does something like ride one of the scooters on the sidewalk in Deep Ellum or downtown, which is against city rules, it isn't Lime or Bird's problem, Ruback says. Same goes for riders who fail to obey traffic laws or cause an accident through user error.
"If a particular renter of a scooter decides he wants to run a red light or dart out on the scooter in front of traffic or travel at an unsafe speed, I don't believe the scooter company is going to have any liability for irresponsible or uneducated operation of their rental scooter."
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The only way that Lime or Bird could expose themselves to liability, Ruback says, is if they make defective or improperly maintained scooters available to riders. Even in the case of scooters that have been tampered with or altered — as has happened in other cities served by Lime and Bird — the companies wouldn't be on the hook, Ruback says.
"If someone, through illegal actions, tampers with the scooter and injures someone, I don't see the scooter company being responsible as long as the scooter company has taken reasonable precautions to ensure that doesn't happen," Ruback says.
The biggest adverse effect of scooter accidents on the companies, according to Ruback, could come if the Dallas City Council decides not to extend the six-month pilot program during which the scooters are allowed to be in Dallas.
"If we see too many accidents over the next few months, if we see too many incidents, regardless of who's at fault, I'm not sure that the City Council will extend this trial period past the six months that they've decided to allow scooters," Ruback says. "We might not see any scooters in downtown Dallas nine months from now if there's too much controversy or too many accidents. On the other hand, we could see 10 times as many. It's a matter of what happens. How bad are the incidents? How safe are people being? The jury is out on scooters."