California class action: Scooters a public nuisance, cause unrest

A class-action lawsuit filed in Los Angeles last week is taking aim at the rising prominence of pedestrian scooters across California, claiming the scooters’ manufacturers and distributers caused a public nuisance and civil unrest. The suit seeks to have two brands of scooters that also recently appeared on Indianapolis streets banned from the state.

The lawsuit, filed Friday in the Central District of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, alleges Bird Rides, Inc. and Lime have distributed scooters that cannot withstand daily commercial use.Also named as defendants are the companies that manufacture the scooters and 100 anonymous defendants, all of whom are accused of various forms of negligence and liability, as well as causing a public nuisance.

The plaintiffs are nine California residents who have suffered physical or monetary harm because of the scooters, either when they were hit by or tripped over a scooter, or when a scooter struck their vehicles. The plaintiffs are seeking class certification for four subclasses, two of which are related to people endangered or injured by Lime scooters and two of which are related to people who have been endangered or injured by Bird scooters.

“Scooter Defendants’ deployment of the Scooters through the Public Places of California has caused civil unrest with individuals throwing the Scooters into trashcans, dumpsters, the Venice Canals and the Pacific Ocean, in addition to lighting the Scooters on fire (which, due to their batteries, can cause explosions) and burying them into he sand of California’s beaches,” southern California attorneys Jeffrey Lee Costell and Catherine Lerer wrote on behalf of the plaintiffs.

Alleging the scooter manufacturers and distributers littered “fleets of defective ‘Scooters’” onto California’s streets “under the guise of the commendable goals of furthering personal freedom and mobility and protecting the environment,” the plaintiffs claim the defendants are actually “endangering the health, safety and welfare of riders, pedestrians and the general public.” The complaint further alleges the scooters contain “defective electronics, brakes, battery charge indicators, wheels and tires, internal power tubes and accelerators, and do not contain adequate instructions and/or warnings of hazards and damages.”

The plaintiffs also take aim at customers’ practice of riding scooters on public sidewalks and leaving them unattended on sidewalks when finished, practices they say constitute a public nuisance and “continues to be harmful to the general health, safety and/or well-being of the public.” Because of those practices, the plaintiffs said they have suffered injuries including damaged teeth and broken bones, as well as other negative effects such as surgery and an inability to access handicapped parking spaces or private property.

“Any ordinary person would be reasonably annoyed and/or disturbed by the aforementioned conditions,” the plaintiffs wrote in their 39-page complaint.

Finally, the complaint alleges Lime and Bird aided and abetted assaults against the plaintiffs and the proposed class through their conduct, described in the complaint as “fraudulent, malicious, outrageous and/or oppressive.”

In addition to class certification, the complaint seeks various damages and declaratory and injunctive relief. Among the injunctions sought is one that would order “that Scooter Defendants abate the existing and continuing nuisance described above.” Additionally, the plaintiffs are seeking a preliminary and permanent injunction requiring:

• Bird, Lime and their agents to stop deploying their scooters in California; and,

• Defendants to “affix adequate warnings and/or instructions” to the scooters and in their apps and marketing.

In an emailed statement, Lime said it is in the process of reviewing the complaint.

“While we don’t comment on pending litigation, safety has always been at the very core of everything we do at Lime — as is our mission of reducing cars from city streets and making them safer and greener for pedestrians, bike and scooter riders alike,” the statement reads. “Lime prides itself on always taking proactive steps relating to safety wherever we have a presence.”

Bird, also speaking to Indiana Lawyer via email, said in a statement that "class action attorneys with a real interest in improving transportation safety should be focused on reducing the 40,000 deaths caused by cars every year in the U.S."

"At Bird, safety is our very top priority, and it drives our mission to get cars off the road to make cities safer and more livable," Bird said in its statement. "The climate crisis and our car addiction demand a transportation mode shift to cleaner, affordable vehicles. Shared e-scooters are already replacing millions of short car trips and the pollution that comes with the, and we at Bird will continue to work with cities to help them redesign their transportation networks so that they are safer and cleaner."

Lime and Bird have also been faced with opposition in Indianapolis. The city’s Department of Business and Neighborhood Services asked the companies to halt their operations for 30 days over the summer. The Indianapolis City-County Council subsequently approved rules and a permitting structure allowing the rechargeable scooters to be used in the Circle City.

Among those rules is a requirement for all scooter companies to obtain a permit from the city, pay $15,000 annually for a license and pay $1 per scooter per day. Further, users who violate any scooter regulations — including riding them in prohibited areas — will be subject to a $25 fine.

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