As E-Scooters Spread, California Disability Advocates Sue over Right to the Sidewalk

Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel, P.C.

Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel, P.C.

People with visual and mobility disabilities are being denied “their right to travel freely and safely on public walkways” as a result of an “onslaught of unregulated dockless scooters.”

That is the thrust of a new federal class-action lawsuit filed in January by Disability Rights California, one of three disability rights-related lawsuits lodged in southern California in the past months concerning the proliferation of electric scooters, or e-scooters, on city streets. 

The lawsuits bring a different perspective to a relatively new phenomenon of urban life, the use of e-scooters for recreation and as a less carbon intensive form of transportation. Companies like Bird, Lime and Jump have been rolling out e-scooters in more and more cities. 

For users -- who rent the scooters after downloading an app and then leave them on the sidewalk when they reach their destination -- the scooters are an attractive new mobility option. For disability rights advocates in San Diego, however, scooters left on sidewalks block foot traffic and scooters in motion pose a safety threat to pedestrians, forcing many people with disabilities to regularly dodge them or sometimes avoid walking on sidewalks altogether.

“The Scooter companies have treated our free public walkways as their own private rental offices, show rooms and storage facilities. The city has done nothing to stop them,” Bob Frank, an attorney with Neil, Dymott, Frank, McCabe & Hudson, said in a DRC news release. “People with disabilities need to have access to city sidewalks and their needs must come first.”

DRC filed its lawsuit January 9, 2019, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, naming the city of San Diego and four private scooter companies: Bird, Lime, Razor and DOES 1-100.

The complaint alleges that the city and companies are systematically violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), as well as state anti-discrimination laws, by failing to maintain the accessibility of public sidewalks, curb ramps, crosswalks and transit stops for people with disabilities. It seeks an order barring the companies from operating on San Diego’s walkways.

The companies, for their part, maintained they are committed to maintaining pedestrian safety. "While Lime does not comment on pending litigation, public safety has always been at the very core of everything we do at Lime," Mary Caroline Pruitt, a company spokeswoman, told Ars Technica

In October, the cities of Los Angeles, Santa Monica and Beverly Hills, as well as Bird and Lime, were also hit with a class-action, ADA lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. The lawsuit raises similar allegations and seeks an order barring scooter companies from blocking the “pedestrian rights of way” on public walkways. Alternatively, it asks the court to require the cities to “adopt implement or enforce ordinances or other requirements” to protect the rights of pedestrians with disabilities. 

A third class-action lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court, takes a different tack. The complaint, filed in October 2018, accuses Bird and Lime of being negligently responsible for personal injuries caused by reckless scooter users. The complaint claims that scooters cause physical injuries and block handicapped parking spaces, and takes aim at the terms of the companies’ user agreements, which advocates allege essentially absolve the companies of liability. 

Click here to watch a video about the San Diego lawsuit, from NBC San Diego.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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