Jesse Halfon is an attorney specializing in products liability and new mobility law.
As scooter, moped and bikeshare programs proliferate around the country, safety concerns surrounding shared micromobility remain. Riders of electric scooters in particular have injury rates that both cities and service providers have struggled to address. And since most riders click away the scooter operator’s liability upon renting, users often have no practical legal remedy in the event that they are injured.
But there’s a third path to make sure that injured riders are at least legally protected : a Mobility Claims Board administered by the city. The Mobility Claims Board would evaluate any injury claims involving shared mobility services where the rider alleges that either the provider or the city were at fault. For people injured on a shared bike or scooter due to an alleged product defect or a poorly maintained road, this would provide a simple procedure to request and recover monetary losses in lieu of a formal lawsuit.
For example, consider someone who rents an electric scooter and hits small pothole in the bike lane, leading to a spill, a fractured wrist, and medical expenses of $5,000. The rider claims that the scooter’s handlebar stem was loose and not safe for regular use. The rider also claims the road was not properly maintained by the city.
The Mobility Claims Board would allow a streamlined resolution of this claim. The injured rider would submit a simple claims form with a sworn affidavit of the basic facts and allegations along with a police report, photos, medical bills, or other documents that the rider would like the Board to consider. The Board would be entitled to further investigate the scene or request more information from the claimant. The Board would then make a decision on liability and offer a settlement of the claim (in this hypothetical, let’s say the offer of settlement was $3,000, to be paid in equal part by the city and scooter rental service). The injured party could then either accept the settlement and agree to waive any further legal action or refuse the settlement offer and pursue traditional legal action. A denial of claim would similarly allow the injured rider to pursue traditional legal remedies.
Rider insurance has also been proposed as a solution to the risk of injuries for shared mobility users. But “good” insurance—full coverage policies with low deductibles—is not cheap. Insuring a single trip could cost as much as a few miles of riding. In an already cost-sensitive market, that’s a tough sell.
The alternative, a Mobility Claims Board, is actually not so novel an idea. Indeed, most cities require that civil claims involving local government entities and their officers or employees initially be filed with an administrative agency, and not through the court system. These matters are investigated and reviewed by a Claims Section or other administrative body who then approves or denies the claim.
For example, a pedestrian injured by a negligently operated New York City bus would first be required to file a legal claim with the MTA Bus Company. The same process applies for injuries caused by improperly maintained sidewalks or property damage that results from fallen trees on public property. One of the most common claims is for cars damaged by potholes. In Michigan, any “highway defect” claim causing damages under $1,000 must be submitted to the state Department of Transportation. Although reimbursement is rare, the process only requires a completed, notarized form; more expensive claims go to court.
This type of process, which typically requires the aggrieved individual to fill out a standardized form, serves the city by increasing efficiency and reducing legal expenses. It can also provide injured parties a simple and streamlined legal remedy for minor claims. In some cases, municipalities create special “claims sections” for specific types of claims—for example flood damage, sewer issues, or auto accidents involving municipal vehicles.
Why would bike and scooter-share companies agree to this process? For starters, they wouldn’t have a choice. Use of the public right-of-way requires municipal approval, typically in the form of a permit. And cities can dictate the terms of these permits for mobility providers that want to deploy on their streets. Most cities already require that private mobility service providers carry minimum insurance and post a bond with the city in order to protect riders (and themselves) from being stuck if the provider goes bankrupt or is otherwise unable to satisfy legal judgments.
For example, New York City currently requires that bikeshare companies remove any liability waiver or arbitration clause from their User Agreements. In fact, this requirement caused Jump Bikes to reconsider deployment in the city. As a compromise, New York requires people to first go to mediation to resolve potential legal disputes before filing lawsuits against the city’s sole bikeshare, CitiBike. By agreeing to a Mobility Claims Board, bike and scooter operators could gain good will from the city and its customers, while the city could increase transparency and demonstrate to its citizens that safety is a priority.
To date, cities have been slow to experiment with new laws and have failed to innovate at the speed necessary to adapt to the technology and business models impacting cities. When lawmakers have hit back against new mobility providers, they’ve often used blunt legal tools like outright bans, permit fees, or impoundment. While advocates call for protected lanes and wider sidewalks to make way for new forms of mobility, policymakers can also do more to build a sustainable legal infrastructure.