Motorized scooter use in the San Francisco Bay Area is rapidly becoming a primary form of local transportation. Electric scooter on-demand rental companies such as Bird and LimeBike have infused the Bay Area with thousands of scooters to fill an ever-increasing consumer demand heightened by over-burdened and inadequate mass transportation services. As a San Francisco pedestrian, bicycle and scooter accident lawyer, I see many liability insurance issues raised by the increased use of scooters.
Along with this increased scooter use inevitably comes an increase in injury accidents involving scooters. Such accidents may involve collisions between scooters and pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcycles, automobiles, or other scooters. Although scooters are prohibited by law from driving on sidewalks pursuant to California Vehicle Code (CVC) Section 21235(g), news reports indicate that scooters are being ridden to a very large degree on sidewalks, raising the risk of injurious collisions between scooters and pedestrians. Unless local law otherwise more strictly prohibits, California State law allows scooters to be operated in bicycle lanes, and in fact mandates they be ridden in Class II bicycle lanes if such lanes exist, and where such bicycle lane does not exist the scooter may be operated on the road as long as the speed limit on the road is 25 mph or less. (CVC 21229, 21230.) Thus, scooter ridership also raises the risk of injurious collisions between scooters and bicycles, and scooters and motorists. San Francisco trauma hospitals have noticed an increase in scooter related serious injuries and are setting up a scooter-related injury tracking system, as reported by the New York Times.
Unfortunately, there are some significant gaps in liability and uninsured motorist insurance coverage for accidents involving scooters. In California, there is no requirement that motorized scooters (as distinguished from mopeds) be registered or that the scooter or scooter operator carry liability insurance. Based upon my research, I am not aware of any scooter rental companies which provide their users with any significant liability insurance. This would leave someone injured due to a collision with a scooter to look to the scooter operator’s homeowners or renters insurance, as is the case when someone is injured due to the negligence of a bicyclist, or perhaps to the scooter operator’s personal assets if they are substantial.
While pedestrians, bicyclists and scooter operators may utilize whatever uninsured/underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) insurance they may have on their motor vehicle policies should they be injured in an accident for which the operator of a motor vehicle is at fault, their UM/UIM coverage almost certainly will not apply when injured by the operator of a scooter. This is because California law requires only that insurers offer, in their motor vehicle policies, UM/UIM coverage for liability arising out of the use of a motor vehicle, and the Insurance Code limits its definition of “motor vehicle” to include only those vehicles which are required to be registered under California State law, and scooters are not required to be so registered. (California Insurance Code 11580.2, 11580.06.)
Another potential source of recovery for those injured in scooter accidents are the scooter rental companies or manufacturers where the accident was caused by a scooter’s mechanical defect or malfunction, or where the scooter was illegally rented to an unlicensed and un-permitted driver. (An operator of a motorized scooter must possess a valid drivers license or instruction permit [CVC 21235(d)].)