San Diego

When Scooters Crash, Who's at Fault? Could Maintenance Info Prevent Injuries?

A San Diego college student injured in a fall from an allegedly defective scooter says some accidents could be prevented if scooter companies disclose information on scooter repairs and maintenance.

"It stopped, but I didn’t,” said a UC San Diego student who fell from a Bird scooter while riding on campus last November.

“All I heard was a beep from the scooter. I just flew off. My face slammed into the ground. It was just horrible."

The student, who asked NBC 7 Investigates not reveal his name, was treated at UCSD Medical Center for a facial fracture, broken nose, damaged sinuses, and several broken teeth.

“This thing could have killed me,” he said.

The student’s attorney, Ian Pancer, submitted a legal claim to Bird for medical and other expenses.

The scooter company’s insurer rejected the claim, stating, “...considering the facts and circumstances of the loss… we find (Bird) is not legally liable for the alleged damages… There is no proof the scooter malfunctioned.”

Pancer also requested that Bird allow him and others to inspect the scooter and also provide him with maintenance records for the allegedly defective scooter.

Pancer said the company refused.

In June, the student filed a lawsuit against Bird Rides, alleging that “design and manufacturing defects,” as well as a lack of a rigorous maintenance program, are responsible for the student’s injuries.

A spokeswoman for Bird declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Pancer told NBC 7 Investigates that the company has since asked the court to have the case heard by a private arbitrator, instead of a judge and jury. 

But the attorney and his client fear the issue is much greater than one defective scooter manufactured by one company.

They said more should be done to ensure public safety for scooter riders, by providing detailed maintenance information about scooters rented in San Diego County.

The lawyer and his client say all scooter companies operating on public streets can and should make maintenance information available to customers when they scan the scooter’s bar code, before they get on.

“A rider of one of those scooters is entitled to know whether it's a maintained and safe vehicle," Pancer said.

Pancer and his client said the City of San Diego should require scooter and bike-sharing companies to share their maintenance records, in help prevent injuries.

A similar policy is in place in New York City, where riders can get detailed information about many aspects of the city’s bike-sharing program

The company’s monthly report does not disclose maintenance information for individual bikes, but does reveal important details about overall fleet maintenance, including the percentage of bikes cleaned and checked, how quickly the company gets broken bikes off the streets, and how fast repairs are made.

The City of San Diego told NBC 7 Investigates its agreements with Bird and other scooter rental companies do not include similar disclosures, and it has no plans to ask for maintenance records.

Pancer hopes that changes, arguing that record-keeping and public disclosure will improve scooter safety. “Bird most likely would have been more diligent in maintaining the scooter, which could have prevented my client's injuries," Pancer said.

Bird Scooters did produce an April 2019 report, titled “A Look at E-Scooter Safety,” that highlights the environmental benefits and positive safety record of scooters. But the 19-page report does not contain any significant information about fleet maintenance. 

A Bird Scooters spokeswoman did tell NBC 7 Investigates that “Bird strongly recommends reporting any damaged scooters or incidents to the company, as we have a support team dedicated to safety that is available around the clock.”

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