Lime notified the city of Santa Monica last month that it would permanently cease operations. (File photo)

New state legislation announced Friday would extend some of the insurance and safety protections Santa Monica provides for dockless scooter and bike riders to all Californians.

AB 1286, by Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance), would require that cities and counties adopt and scooter and bike companies comply with safety rules like the ones set forth in Santa Monica’s Shared Mobility pilot program. The bill would also require minimum insurance to protect riders as well as pedestrians and others in the event of injury.

“Communities throughout California have been confronted with this new technology that can be fun, affordable and eco-friendly ways to get around,” Muratsuchi said. “However, like any new innovation, we need to make sure it’s safe both for users and pedestrians with basic consumer protections.”

In addition, AB 1286 would prohibit companies from requiring users to waive their legal rights to sue for injuries or by forcing them to take disputes to private arbitration. Scooter companies’ rental agreements currently include complicated waivers, which relieve the companies of responsibility for any injuries or deaths and severely limit compensation for harm.

“I think any provider of a new innovative product also needs to be held responsible for any foreseeable injuries that come from the use of their product,” Muratsuchi said.

Muratsuchi introduced his legislation one month after UCLA released a study that recorded 249 patients with scooter-related injuries at two Santa Monica emergency rooms. It found that e-scooter riders are most likely to be hospitalized for head injuries and broken bones.

“The statistics speak for themselves in terms of the potentially dangerous nature of these services,” Muratsuchi said. “We don’t want to discourage people from using these services responsibly and safely, we want to balance that with making sure when people sign up that they’re not waiving their legal rights.”

Catherine Lerer, a Santa Monica personal injury attorney who filed a class-action lawsuit last October on behalf of injured riders accusing Bird and lime of gross negligence and abetting assault, said Muratsuchi’s bill would put pressure on companies to make their devices safer because they would no longer be shielded from liability.

Lerer said many of the personal injury cases she is litigating involve malfunctioning, damaged or poorly maintained scooters, even though the Shared Mobility program requires companies to keep their devices in good shape.

“You would be able to make a claim when a scooter malfunctions and that’s going to cost scooter companies,” Lerer said. “If they’re going to be on the hook for injuries caused by malfunctioning scooters, it’s going to force them to be proactive rather than reactive and make sure their scooters are safe.”

Lerer said she thinks scooter and bike companies will fight Muratsuchi’s proposed legislation, especially the part of the bill that asserts riders’ right to sue for injuries. She added the companies might accept, however, the portion of the bill asks them to maintain $5 million in liability insurance for each case of injury or property damage, a requirement they already comply with in Santa Monica and San Francisco.

Muratsuchi said the bill as drafted does not provide a framework for the safety rules cities and counties would have to adopt.

“The conversation would focus on how to balance the desire for cities and counties to maintain their own local control over the protections they want to provide with the industry’s likely desire to want to have uniform safety rules, where they would not have to deal with a patchwork of regulations that differ from city to city,” he said.

Muratsuchi added he will work with scooter industry representatives in crafting AB 1286.

Bird, Lime and Lyft did not respond to requests for comment. Uber, which owns Jump, declined to comment.

 

madeleine@smdp.com

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