So just how much risk are people assuming when they click that app to hop on a Bird or Lime e-scooter to zip to lunch or make that soon-to-start class?
A lawsuit filed last week in Atlanta may test the strength of the sweeping agate-type boilerplate waiver that scrolls across Bird’s app sharply limiting any liability claims while agreeing that any dispute regarding the ubiquitous wheeled whizzers must be arbitrated in California.
That’s a long trip for Simon Clopton, whose decision to hop aboard a Bird scooter in January ended abruptly when the front brake apparently locked up and threw him to the pavement on the Georgia Tech campus, shattering his leg and leaving him with more than $156,000 in medical bills.
“Fortunately, we have video from Georgia Tech that shows this thing riding straight down the street, everything’s fine, and all of sudden the wheel just yanks to the left and sends him flying,” said attorney Louis Levenson, who sued Bird and the scooter’s manufacturers Friday in Fulton County State Court.
“He struck the pavement in the bike lane and suffered compound fractures of the leg, and they had to put in screws, bolts and rods,” said Levenson, who filed the suit with Levenson & Associates colleague George Lott.
Clopton, 42, was about to start a new job but is instead sitting at home unable to put any weight on his leg, Levenson said. He was not wearing a helmet and suffered no head injuries, Levenson said.
The suit names Bird Rides Inc. and the scooters’ manufacturers, Xiaomi USA and Segway Inc.
Scooters and their associated benefits, accidents, hassles and clutter are big news everywhere they operate. Atlanta lawmakers are considering regulations and have enlisted Grady Memorial Hospital to help track injuries. The Georgia General Assembly is pondering legislation to regulate where they can be parked and how fast they can travel—but holding scooter operators liable for injury may be the biggest bump of all.
User agreements for Bird and Lime both include binding arbitration clauses and class action waivers.
At least one lawsuit naming Bird is already pending in federal court: A putative class action asserting negligence, nuisance and other claims originally filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court was transferred to California’s Central District in November, where the parties have agreed to stay pending settlement negotiations.
Levenson said the numbers of injuries and the dense user agreements closing off parties’ ability to challenge the scooter companies’ operations raise legitimate public policy concerns.
“One doesn’t have to be terribly insightful to see all these scooters laying in the rain, in the mud,” Levenson said. “It’s certainly not a shock that they’re they’re not serviced regularly, that they’re recharged by volunteers.”
“I don’t think people realize they’re giving up all these rights when they click on these user agreements. I think this is going to be a seminal case here in Georgia, because these foreign companies are using an app that lets people click away their legal rights.”
Bird did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday, but it has said it offers free helmets to riders and has distributed thousands at no cost other than shipping; its website also includes a list of safety measures as to where to ride and park and instructs riders to avoid alcohol or one-handed driving.