January 23, 2019

From Wall Street to Main Street, electric scooters are making a quiet (but sometimes dangerous) debut. This eco-friendly method of transportation enables riders to navigate traffic-clogged urban streets quickly and inexpensively. However, the emergence of so-called “e-scooters” could also have important drawbacks when they’re used for business purposes.

Next-Generation Transportation Solutions

Smartphone apps have revolutionized transportation in dozens of U.S. cities. First, Uber and Lyft disrupted the rental car and taxi industries. Now, startups — like Bird, Lime and Skip — are offering e-scooters for a daily or monthly fee to people via simple mobile apps. Rather than owning or renting a specific scooter, e-scooter drivers have access to hundreds of dockless units that can be conveniently picked up and dropped off almost anywhere in town.

The trend has raised concerns on several fronts, especially worries about the physical hazards inherent in riding them. Rehabilitation medicine practitioners warn that riders scooting around at “break-neck speeds” are at risk of breaking their necks — or those of pedestrians they plow into.

Driving Blind

Scooters tend to be harder than bicycles and motorcycles for automobile drivers to notice. Plus, riders are fully exposed in a collision and can’t compete with the momentum of a moving car or truck. To make matters worse, few scooter riders wear helmets.

If one of your employees suffers or causes a severe injury (or death) while commuting to work, the tragedy would have no different legal implications for you than if the accident had occurred in an automobile. Yet some urban employers have started furnishing employees with scooters to use for business purposes.

Who’s liable if an employee running a work-related errand — such as delivering products to customers, driving to a store to purchase supplies, or making sales calls — gets into an accident while driving a scooter?

Accident Liability

E-scooters haven’t been on the scene long enough for a body of case law to have built up around who assumes liability for damages from work-related scooters accidents. However, lawyers indicate that the same principles likely apply to e-scooter accidents as accidents involving other kinds of vehicles, such as cars, vans and light-weight trucks.

Don’t expect an e-scooter rental company to assume any liability for work-related accidents. Instead, your workers’ compensation policy will probably cover injuries to an employee-driver involved in a work-related e-scooter accident.

However, workers’ compensation insurance generally doesn’t cover injuries that an employee causes to others while driving (or, presumably, scootering) for work. However, your general business liability insurance should step in. Now might be a good time to review the fine print of your liability policy with an insurance professional.

Vehicle Use Policy

Preventing accidents is better than waiting for disaster to strike and then relying on insurance. A paid claim can’t undo the harm caused by a serious accident. A strict vehicle use policy is your front-line defense against work-related vehicle accidents, whether involving scooters or other kinds of vehicles.

Effective policies may include the following provisions, among others:

  • Employees must obey all pertinent laws and regulations.
  • Helmets must be worn by employees at all times while operating scooters, even if the e-scooter rental agreement doesn’t require it. If the rental company doesn’t offer helmets, the employer should provide them to employees who drive scooters for work purposes, as an extra safety measure.
  • Employees are personally responsible for citations.
  • Scooters shouldn’t be driven in areas where they’ve been banned.
  • Vehicles must have functioning lights, reflectors, turn signals and any other available safety features.
  • No ear buds, head phones or mobile devices can be used while operating a vehicle.
  • No nonbusiness passengers can accompany the driver on business-related trips.

Your attorney might suggest additional policy provisions, such as general statements concerning the necessity of operating vehicles in a safe manner and at speeds consistent with legal speed limits and adverse driving conditions, such as rain, intense wind or snow.

Important note: Local laws governing e-scooters may vary. Some jurisdictions require drivers to wear helmets. Some require riders to operate scooters on the streets, and others limit them to sidewalks. Familiarize yourself with the rules in your area before you establish or update your vehicle use policy.

Embrace the Change

E-scooters offer many upsides: They’re eco-friendly, cost efficient and convenient. But there are also some potential hazards that you need to address before encouraging your employees to jump onto scooters.

© 2019