Electric scooters have been in the news often since their entry into major cities around the U.S. – with most headlines skewing negative. E-scooters have played a role in thousands of accidents and at least 1,500 serious injuries since 2017, according to Consumer Reports data. In addition, eight victims have lost their lives in e-scooter accidents.
Despite safety concerns, e-scooter companies have managed to evade liability for many accidents involving their scooters. In Washington, D.C, however, a new law could make it easier for crash victims to seek financial recompense for their damages. Councilmember Mary Cheh introduced the new bill to expand the rights of e-scooter users to compensation after serious accidents.
In 2016, Washington D.C. updated its contributory negligence law to get rid of the language that barred pedestrians and bicyclists from compensation for any degree of fault. The update made an exception to the state’s strict contributory negligence rule for nonmotorized roadway users. If a pedestrian or bicyclist gets into a traffic accident, contributory negligence will no longer bar him or her from financial recovery. Instead, the courts will reduce the plaintiff’s recovery by his or her percentage of fault.
The 2016 update made it possible to obtain compensation as a pedestrian or bicycle accident victim partially responsible for an accident, as long as the victim’s amount of negligence did not exceed the defendant’s. The update did not, however, account for electric scooter riders. As the law currently stands, e-scooter users could still lose any right to compensation for even 1% of fault for a traffic accident. The founder of the bill, Mary Cheh, believes this lapse is not in the spirit of the updates made in 2016.
Cheh’s proposed solution is the Vulnerable User Collision Recovery Amendment Act of 2019. Under this new law, the language of Washington D.C.’s contributory negligence rule would change again. The bill would extend the list of exceptions to include electric mobility device users, and add a new paragraph defining this phrase as someone on an electric scooter or battery-assisted bicycle. The bill makes it clear the extension would not apply to people on motorcycles, mopeds or electric wheelchairs.
If Cheh’s bill passes into law, it would enable e-scooter riders to recover compensation for injuries, pain and suffering, and other damages even if they were partially to blame for the accident. E-scooter users would benefit from the same exemption from D.C.’s strict contributory negligence law pedestrians and bicyclists currently enjoy. Instead of a small proportion of fault barring an injured e-scooter rider from recovery, it would simply reduce his or her compensation award.
In an e-scooter accident involving the scooter rider’s comparative fault, the courts will analyze both sides of the case and assign a percentage of fault to the rider and the defendant. As long as the courts found the rider 50% or less at fault, the rider may recover compensation. The courts will deduct an amount equivalent to the victim’s percentage of fault from the award. If the e-scooter rider was 20% responsible, for example, he or she would receive 20% less (e.g. $80,000 instead of $100,000).
The new bill would only change the contributory negligence law for e-scooter riders, not for motor vehicle drivers. Standard vehicle drivers would still be subject to the rules of contributory negligence, in which any amount of fault will bar the driver from financial recovery. D.C. is one of only five jurisdictions in the U.S. that still use contributory negligence laws. The changes made to the law in 2016 and the proposed bill today are signs that Washington, D.C. may someday abolish its contributory negligence law altogether.