San Diego

San Diego Sues E-Scooter Operators Over Safety Liability

The lawsuit says scooter companies should indemnify the city and cover costs of any legal action, including pending lawsuit filed by a safety advocacy group.

NBC Universal, Inc.

The city of San Diego, seeking to indemnify itself against a lawsuit filed by a disability rights advocacy group, has filed a lawsuit against six operators of motorized scooters.

The lawsuit was filed Nov. 1 against the operators of Bird, Lyft, Lime, Spin, and Wheels and Skip scooters.

San Diego City Attorney Mara W. Elliot sent this statement to NBC 7:

“In exchange for using the city’s streets and sidewalks, the scooter companies agreed to defend and indemnify the city against liabilities that arise from their conduct. Their practice of shifting their business costs to the city taxpayers is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”

NBC 7 reached out to all of the companies named in the lawsuit. Only one has immediately responded.

“We do not comment on active litigation,” said a spokesperson for Bird.

The legal squabble between the city and scooter operator comes in the aftermath of a lawsuit filed by the safety advocacy group Safe Walkways. The suit alleges the city has not effectively prevented scooters from creating hazards for disabled pedestrians.

“They’ve both done nothing effective to deal with the problem until they’re squabbling about legal fees. But there wouldn’t be any legal fees if they’d dealt with the problem in the first place," said Jonathan Freeman of Safe Walkways.

Freeman said the city could have presumably protected itself more adequately by making indemnification policies clearer to the scooter companies, but is far from defending the city’s enforcement of scooter violations.

“The problem is the scooter companies have done nothing to address the problems they create. There wouldn’t be a lawsuit if they’d done that. If the city had effective enforcement, which it doesn’t, for the last four years, we wouldn’t have a lawsuit that the costs would have to be paid for,” said Freeman.

Currently, there are 14,500 motorized scooters permitted by the city, which receives up to $135 per year for each device.

On the city’s Get It Done app, which is the primary avenue to file scooter complaints, there were 27 scooter complaints by 8 a.m. Most had to do with scooters dumped on sidewalks.

The cases have been referred to the city’s Sweep program, which is responsible for moving or impounding illegally-parked scooters.

But Freeman said enforcement is inadequate, with a very small number of moving violations, impounds and parking violations.

NBC 7 has reached out to the city for enforcement data. A spokesperson said staff is working on gathering the data.

A spokesperson for Lime said it is working toward a solution with the city and other e-scooter operators.

"Lime is proud to be a good partner with the City of San Diego and we continue to work with them and the other micromobility operators to develop solutions that work for everyone. We also are running ongoing campaigns to educate riders on courteous and compliant parking practices. We hope to soon resolve this matter in a way that helps the City meet its obligations and be good neighbors," the spokesperson said.

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