CEDAR RAPIDS — An association representing the legal community in Iowa is calling on Cedar Rapids and other communities with electric scooter rental programs to ensure insurance coverage to help cover costs in the event of collisions or injuries.
E-scooters have proved to be popular modes for recreation as well as commuting in urban centers, including Cedar Rapids, which launched a pilot program run by VeoRide with 30 e-scooters on Aug. 30.
But in some communities, they also have left a wake of injuries.
“Before the city of Cedar Rapids expands the availability of e-scooters beyond the current pilot project, they need to have a plan for ensuring insurance coverage,” Saffin Parrish-Sams, president of the Iowa Association for Justice, an organization of nearly 1,000 Iowa lawyers, said in a statement provided to The Gazette.
“It is well understood that injuries and emergency room visits skyrocket when these scooters are introduced to a community, but it is easily overlooked that it is not just the riders who are getting hurt. In many cases, scooters are hitting and seriously injuring pedestrians in crosswalks or on sidewalks.”
The e-scooters in Cedar Rapids can travel up to 12 mph. The user kicks off and pushes a lever on the handlebar to engage the motor.
Parrish-Sams added that traditional coverage such as auto, homeowners or renters insurance would be unlikely to cover injuries leaving “faultless pedestrians injured by scooters … to use their own health insurance, or pay out of pocket.”
Scooter companies should work insurance into the cost of each ride, she said.
The association believes litigation would be a too common outcome in cases of collisions, said Brad Lint, executive director of the association. The association has not yet reached out to Cedar Rapids directly.
They also plan to speak with Des Moines.
The e-scooters have averaged 200 rides per day since their launch in Cedar Rapids, said Bill Micheel, Cedar Rapids assistant director of community development.
Micheel said he does not foresee the city pushing insurance for users for a few reasons.
The Cedar Rapids program operates differently than in many other communities where the city may own the equipment and contracts a vendor to operate the program.
In Cedar Rapids, VeoRide owns the equipment and runs the program. Cedar Rapids controls the number of bikes or scooters and the geographic location in which they can operate, but not how VeoRide operates its business, Micheel said.
While VeoRide has incidental insurance in the event of an equipment malfunction, users sign a waiver protecting VeoRide in the event of an injury. It would be no different if there is an injury involving a private or rental bike or scooter, or any number activities where a waiver is involved, he said.
Also, Cedar Rapids has built out bike infrastructure, including bike lanes in the downtown and a network of bike trails to give scooter riders a designated space, he said.
“If you look at places with issues, such as Nashville or Austin, there are multiple vendors and higher volumes,” Micheel said. “We have places for people to ride not on the sidewalk.”
Before the rollout of the e-bikes and e-scooter rentals, Cedar Rapids passed laws banning bikes and scooters from sidewalks in the downtown as well as “dooring” — when a vehicle owner opens a vehicle door into the way of an oncoming bike or scooter.
Users of e-bikes or e-scooters must be at least 18 years old or have permission from a parent or legal guardian. The minimum age requirement is 13 years of age.
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The justice association pointed to a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association that found one in three e-scooter collisions require a visit to the emergency room, and news reports that cite a 161 percent increase in emergency room visits involving e-scooters in Salt Lake City and a handful of cities that have banned e-scooters.
Officials at Mercy Medical Center and UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids said they have not treated any scooter-related injuries in their emergency rooms since the launch date.
Scooter rentals also have gained notoriety for being left intrusive places, such as streets and the middle of sidewalks.
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