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How does liability work in electric scooter accidents?

A new transportation trend is spreading, particularly in urban areas like Seattle. This trend: electric scooters. Not to be confused with mopeds, these scooters are more akin to skateboards with a motor.

In addition to personal ownership of electric-scooters, many large cities have shared electric scooter companies. Operated by private businesses, individuals can pay a fee to use a scooter in much the same way they use shared bicycle systems. San Francisco currently has at least three shared electric-scooter companies operating within the city.

Although Seattle does not yet have these businesses, they will likely appear in the near future. Operation requires a special permit. According to a spokeswoman with the Seattle Department of Transportation, Seattle is not likely to have this permit program in place for at least another year. As such, electric-scooter sharing stations will may start to appear in the city after summer of 2019.

How common are accidents?

Whether using a sharing system or one's own personal electric-scooter, accidents are common. A recent piece in The Washington Post notes injuries are piling up "in cities across the country." Accidents can result from a poorly maintained or malfunctioning scooter, misuse of the scooter or involvement in a traffic accident.

In some cities, electric-scooter are not allowed on sidewalks or bike lanes. Instead, they must operate on the roads with other vehicles. This can put the rider at an increased risk of an accident.

How does liability work in scooter accidents?

If the accident is due to a malfunction, the rider would likely look to hold the scooter company or rental company liable for any resulting costs. If the result of a traffic accident, the rider may hold the other driver liable.

When building a case to hold another driver liable for an accident, the legal theory of negligence generally applies. This theory requires the injured party to establish four elements: duty, breach, causation and damage. First, the victim must establish that a duty existed for the driver to operate his or her vehicle safely. Any driver that operates a vehicle automatically accepts this duty. Second, the victim must show that the driver breached this duty and third that the breach resulted in the accident. Finally, that the accident resulted in damage. This can be established by showing the accident led to an injury which required medical treatment.

If successful, the injured party could receive monetary awards to help cover the costs that result from the accident. It is generally wise to seek legal counsel to help build this claim. An attorney experienced in personal injury claims can gather the evidence needed to help better ensure a successful claim.