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E-scooters (and scooter injuries) are making their way into NYC

Foot-powered scooters have been around a long time. But increasingly, you see people whizzing by on battery-powered scooters.

If you thought electric scooters were outlawed in New York City, you were correct. But more and more people are riding them anyway. And increasingly they are injuring themselves - or others.

E.R. doctors report rise in e-scooter injuries

Electric scooters are banned from the streets and sidewalks of NYC. But the sale of scooters is not illegal. More and more people are buying them and shrugging off the rules. For youths, it's a new form of recreation. For adults, it beats walking to work or working up a sweat on a bicycle.

Nationally, medical professionals have reported an increase in injuries from e-scooters. The scooters don't go particularly fast, but they have small wheels and cannot turn sharply. Few scooter riders wear helmets or other protection. When they have a spill, it can result in fractures, lacerations and head injuries. One scooter rider was recently killed in a collision in Washington, D.C., perhaps the first (but inevitable) e-scooter traffic death.

The Consumer Products Safety Commission says the number of reported electric scooter injuries (3,300 in 2017) is relatively low compared to injuries from skateboards and inline skates. But the number is likely to grow, especially with the rise of rentable scooter vendors across the U.S. For example, a Utah hospital has reported that scooter injuries are up 160 percent from the year before, presumably due to dockless e-scooters introduced to the Salt Lake City market in June.

Is New York ready to lift the ban on e-scooters?

Electric scooters, like electric-assist bicycles, fall into a gray area. With a top speed of 10 to 15 mph, motorized scooters are too slow for roads and bike lanes, yet too fast for sidewalks and jogging paths, or impractical on crowded walkways.

Technically, riding an e-scooter is illegal in New York City, subject to a $500 fine and impoundment, but NYC officials have shown little enthusiasm for enforcement. The Department of Transportation has indicated it will reconsider e-bikes, which may extend to e-scooters too. Several City Council members are backing electric scooters as a viable transportation alternative. And commercial rented scooter vendors like Bird and Lime are lobbying to crack a lucrative New York market.

What happens if you are injured in a scooter accident?

The fact that e-scooters are illegal does not automatically entitle you to compensation if you are struck by one. As with any personal injury case, you still have to prove the rider was reckless or careless in running into you.

Conversely, the fact that electric scooters are banned does not necessarily mean that riders can't sue if they are injured. If there is a defect in the scooter that makes it inherently unsafe, the manufacturer might be accountable in a product liability lawsuit even though scooters are prohibited. Or if there is a hazard in the roadway or walkway, such as a pothole or uneven pavement, you might have grounds to sue the city or abutting property owner.

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