Transportation

On-Demand Scooters Raise Liability Questions in Columbus, Ohio

The almost overnight popularity of e-scooters in many cities, has officials and riders struggling to grasp all of the impacts.

by Mark Williams, The Columbus Dispatch / September 11, 2018
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(TNS) — Riders beware. Those electric scooters that you're renting to get around town don't come with an insurance policy, meaning that you're probably on the hook for any accident you cause.

"People are riding around with no coverage, and they don't know it," said John Koetz, owner of the W.E. Davis Insurance Agency in Columbus.

"Basically, these business guys in a suit who hit a pedestrian and seriously injure them are going to get sued and have no coverage," he said. "It's a huge risk."

Two scooter companies — Lime and Bird — have placed scooters throughout Columbus this summer. Before scooters can be rented, riders must agree to a contract that makes clear that they are responsible for any injury or damage they cause.

The Bird agreement also tells riders in all-capital letters that "your automotive insurance policies may not provide coverage for accidents involving damage to this vehicle."

Of course, that language is in a lengthy contract that riders might be trying to read quickly on their cellphone in their eagerness to try out the scooters.

"People just do not realize what the liability is. It's crazy," Koetz said.

Scooters fall in a murky area when it comes to insurance.

Some insurers offer scooter coverage on an auto policy, but that covers mopeds and sit-down-style scooters such as Vespas that are driven on public roads. Auto insurance typically excludes coverage for non-owned vehicles such as rental scooters that have fewer than four wheels, except for motorcycles.

Homeowner or renter policies usually exclude motor vehicles, but they often cover vehicles used for recreational purposes off public roads. Rental scooters are driven on public roads, which would be excluded.

Umbrella policies typically are meant to provide excess coverage above home and auto liability, and they generally have the same exclusions as home and auto insurance.

It's confusing, to be sure.

"If you're concerned about this — they don't go that fast, about 15 mph — that you could hurt someone, talk to your company or your agent about whether there is coverage," said James Lynch, chief actuary of the Insurance Information Institute.

Whether riders should have coverage is a matter of debate.

"I almost hit a couple of people," said Tramell Jones, 21, of Columbus, while on a scooter Downtown. "There should be some type of insurance. You never know."

Other riders said they think insurance isn't necessary.

"I'm confident in my ability," said Drew Henson, 31, of Columbus.

Michael Venne, 37, of Columbus, said he doesn't go that fast. "It's like riding a bike," he said.

Koetz said the problem with insurance coverage might be addressed by the industry as scooters become more popular.

Early adopters "can run into problems with them," Koetz said of the scooters. "The industry has not caught up with the technology yet."

©2018 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.