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Shared E-Scooter Program Brings New Transportation Option; New Physical And Financial Risks

CHICAGO (CBS) -- They're a hip way to zip across cities, and soon Chicagoans can join the trend; a four-month pilot program for shared electric scooters launches later this month.

The scooters bring physical and financial risk for users, so who is on the hook if things go wrong?

Crash investigation teams across the U.S. are increasingly called to electric scooter incidents. E-scooter accidents can lead to badly broken bones and traumatic brain injuries.

With 2,500 electric scooters zooming into the Chicago pilot zone starting June 15, we wanted to know who pays when things go wrong.

An e-scooter user's medical insurance will usually cover at least part of the costs of physical injuries, but what about bills for injuries to others, damages to private property, or potential lawsuits?

"The terms of service for the scooter companies that are coming to Chicago specifically say that they bear no responsibility for injuries. We find that troublesome," said attorney Bryant Greening, co-founder of the law firm LegalRideshare.

According to Greening, if a scooter user dents a car or runs into a person on the sidewalk, "the scooter company is going to put their hands in the air and say, 'it's not our fault.'"

If the scooter user doesn't have insurance, anyone they might injure will be responsible for their own medical treatment.

If someone is injured falling over an unoccupied e-scooter left out on the sidewalk, Greening said the companies still wouldn't admit any liability.

"The companies would say that's the last user's fault. The last user is the one who left it there, therefore they should bear responsibility. That's crazy," he said.

Bike sharing companies like Divvy also put liability on riders, but Greening argued there's a difference because most people know how to ride a bicycle.

"What we're seeing with scooter companies is that people are not trained, people are riding recklessly and people are running into pedestrians in a way that we don't see with biking companies," he said. "If you're going to bring scooters into the city, you need to teach people how to use them. So I expect this to be a fast-growing area of law in the state of Illinois."

The city said it is requiring e-scooter vendors to have one of the highest general liability policies in the nation, but Greening said that might or might not provide coverage depending on the case. He also said shared electric scooter programs are so new, a lot of the legal issues haven't been sorted out by the courts yet.

The pilot program will cover an area bounded by Halsted Street and the Chicago River on the east, Irving Park Road on the north, the city limits and Harlem Avenue on the west, and the Chicago River on the south. The pilot program will run from June 15 through Oct. 15.

Riders will be able to use a smartphone to unlock and ride the shared e-scooters within the pilot area. At least 25 percent of scooters must be placed in one of two priority areas within the pilot zone each morning.

Scooters may not be used on sidewalks, and are limited to a maximum speed of 15 mph. They also will have warning bells, hand and foot brakes, and front and rear lights. Operating hours will be between 5 a.m. and 10 p.m., with vendors required to remove scooters from the public way every night.

For more information on the e-scooter program, click here.

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