Electric scooters are sweeping the nation and starting to pop up in greater Boston. But when you grab the handlebars and hit the road, what happens if something goes wrong? What if you get hurt, or hurt someone else?
The NBC10 Boston Investigators found you may be on the hook for more than you expect.
Ashanti Jordan has been in a vegetative state for months. The Florida woman was riding a rented e-scooter when she collided with a car. Police say she ran a stop sign, but her family is suing Lime, one of the biggest players in the dockless e-scooter rental industry, saying at the time of the crash, its mobile phone app urged people to ride in the street. That's illegal in her city.
"It's unfair," said her mother, Tracy Jordan. "It's very unfair. She will never be able to live a normal life. Never."
Lime told us they don't comment on pending litigation, but in a statement, the company said the safety of riders and the community is a top priority.
When she rented the scooter, Jordan agreed to Lime's rules and policies — a step that all riders must complete when they sign up. Those policies are spelled out in Lime's user agreement. But many users don't realize what the agreement includes, said David White, a personal injury lawyer.
"You're putting everything in the hands of the company and preserving essentially no rights for yourself whatsoever," White said.
If you're riding a scooter and crash, your health insurance will help with your medical bills. But if you hit a pedestrian, crash into a car or damage someone's property, you're likely on your own to pay for damages.
"Would my auto insurance cover it? No," said Mike Rodman, of Albert Risk Management Consultants. "Would my homeowner's insurance cover it? No. Would an umbrella policy cover it? Big maybe."
Riders also agree to settle any disputes with the company in confidential arbitration, essentially giving up the right to a jury trial. Under Lime's user agreement, even if arbitration goes in your favor, the company's liability is capped at $100.
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"If their brakes fail, if the maintenance was inadequate, if there was any other malfunction of the scooter and you get hurt, the most they will ever give you, if they give you anything, is $100," said White, the personal injury lawyer.
Those crucial details are in the user agreement — a dry and often complicated legal text that many people skip over when they sign up for a new service. For e-scooter rental companies, some user agreements span more than 50 printed pages. And some riders admitted they don't read them.
"That's absolutely the first time I'm seeing that," said rider Chris Vevuckis, who was shown a copy of a user agreement in Brookline.
"I just wanted to skip over that part," said 25-year-old Brendan Clifford, of Allston.
Lime and Bird, two leaders in the market, told NBC10 Boston they do carry insurance to cover riders in certain situations, but when we asked them to give us examples — or to point out where that information is spelled out in their user agreements — Lime stopped responding to the station's emails.
Bird said it requires riders to complete an in-app safety training and noted that it has given away tens of thousands of free helmets. But Bird also failed to respond to requests for more information.
Some cities are now insisting scooter companies carry enough insurance to cover pedestrians if a scooter crashes into them.
White, the lawyer, said liability issues should command the state's attention as e-scooters proliferate in more cities and towns.
"Our legislature is a decade behind this issue," he said. "Our insurance industry is a decade behind this issue."
Despite any red flags, Vevuckis, the rider in Brookline said he's comfortable clicking "agree" on the rental company agreements because the benefit outweighs the potential risk. Vevuckis said he avoids riding a scooter during rush hour and stays aware of his surroundings.
Scooters in Brookline are also powered down at night, when it would be harder for drivers to spot riders in the street, he said.
"At the end of the day, I just think I like using it more than I care about potentially being harmed by it," he said.
Abigail Hadfield contributed to this report.