The Law Gazette, (a must-read for any lawyer) recently reported a case where an e-scooter rider injured when he was overtaken by a London bus could emerge as a test case for establishing liability rules for accidents involving the vehicles ridden illegally on public roads. The scooter rider suffered multiple fractured ribs, a dislocated shoulder and a collapsed lung when he was hit by the wing mirror of a bus last year.

The solicitor representing the man, Ben Pepper, said  the outcome of the case should go some way to determining riders’ legal rights.  There is some confusion over the use of e-scooters.  It is not unusual to see them on roads (including pavements) and their riders may well have hi-viz gear and helmets and to all intents and purposes look as if they have a right to be there. But they don’t.

The law states that a private e-scooter – as opposed to those that can be hired through official schemes– can be driven only on private land. So this would seem to prevent anyone riding one on a public road who is then injured there by someone else from bringing a claim against a motorist.

Apparently about 750,000 of them are owned in Britain. There were 484 casualties in reported road accidents involving at least one e-scooter vehicle in Great Britain in 2020. Information held by the DfT provisionally indicates that 530 casualties were reported in the first six months of 2021.

Research from the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety found that over a four-week period in June last year in Bristol, 90 people presented to emergency departments in the city after e-scooter related incidents. Of those, 80% said they were riding hired devices, but PACTS said the fear of prosecution may have deterred riders from being honest about this.

But the law also has a principle that no-one should benefit from their own wrong.  Thus, someone who murders someone in order to inherit from their will would not be allowed to.  So if you are doing something illegal and get injured, nobody owes you a duty of care and you shouldn’t be able to claim compensation.

But there are arguments the other way.

The acting solicitor says that a cyclist with similar injuries would be able to claim for compensation and asked why the situation was different for someone on an e-scooter. Well, because it’s illegal? Should the law be changed?

The Occupiers Liability Act 1984 does give a property owners a duty of care towards trespassers where they are aware of a hazard on their premises or land and there is a prospect that a trespasser may come across and be injured by it.

So should we be arguing that as e-scooters are known to be likely to be on a road now, that there should be a duty of care for others to look out for them?  Injuries caused by wing mirrors are also a common occurrence.

The e-scooter rider may well be a child, or someone who doesn’t realise they shouldn’t be on the road or pavement. It may seem very harsh to negligently cause life-changing injury to someone, but just be able to shrug and say, well, they shouldn’t have been there.

There may well be a finding of contributory negligence, in that any compensation may be reduced where the injured person is held partially liable for their own injuries by their own behaviour, but should there be NO liability at all?

Should there be a duty on retailers of e-scooters to make it absolutely clear what the law is to their purchasers and perhaps even get them to sign something to the effect that they understand that? But children couldn’t do that.  Nor might someone whose first language isn’t English fully understand what they were signing.

But look at it another way. What if the e-scooter rider was the CAUSE of the accident?  They will not be insured if they are riding it illegally, so there will be no money available by way of insurance to compensate a potentially severely injured and innocent person.  It may be possible to seize assets or enforce judgment against them, but that is often very unlikely and would be a long drawn out process with many pitfalls.

So is the answer to make riding them legal on roads, but with taxes and compulsory insurance, lights, indicators and warning bells or horns?  But then look at cyclists – a similar vehicle, but legal on the roads, yet no requirement for taxes and insurances.  You could also look at mobility vehicles, without which many would be lost and housebound, but again, very little in the way of regulation.

It is an interesting legal situation and one we will be watching carefully if the case progresses.

If you have been involved in an accident involving an e-scooter that wasn’t your fault contact the team at Ringrose Law on 01522 561020 or email wecanhelp@ringroselaw.co.uk

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