Reporter Steven Luke recently did a piece recently noting medical professionals have been citing electric scooter injuries as a consistent source of operations. The news reports that “‘Scooter Trauma’ is no longer an emergency room anomaly. Some medical professionals say electric scooter injuries have risen to become one of their top reasons for surgery.”
Common Scooter Injuries
As an example, the news presented commentary by Dr. Robert Tonks. Dr. Tonks is orthopedic surgeon who “has operated on at least 48 patients who hurt themselves on electric scooters.” He has seen the following injuries:
- Ankle fractures,
- Wrist fractures, and
- Tibial plateau fractures (leg fractures)
Causes of Scooter Accidents
Alcohol may play a role in this accidents. That is likely a lawsuit killer, especially in states like Maryland where contributory negligence is the law. In such cases, if the plaintiff causes or contributes to the accident at all – even just 1% – that victim gets $0. That’s right, in Maryland and a handful of other places in the U.S., you could receive no compensation if a truck driver hauls down the street, slams into the back of your vehicle, and a judge or jury decides you caused or contributed to the collision in some way. Fortunately most of the country does not have this harsh a law, but some jurisdictions do including Maryland, but I digress.
Scooter accidents can result from distracted drivers, both operators and other drivers on the road. Inexperience is also an issue. Historically, some companies have thought they could escape accountability if the user makes a mistake. Use error or user error, however, is not a free pass.
Scooter Accidents will Give Rise to Negligence and Product Liability Claims.
From a product liability attorney’s perspective, that suggests there may a design defect, failure to warn, or inadequate instructions case. Companies have a duty to design products in such a way that they can be used safely. That means they must be made to be used safely, include information to assure their safe use, and the company has to pay attention to post-market problems that arise. In other words, companies have to pay attention to how people are using the products and make changes as necessary to be sure people don’t get hurt.
In many cases, this requires conduct human factors analyses. Human factors is an interdisciplinary analysis considering ergonomics, workplace safety, human error, product design, human capability, and human-computer interaction. (See here.) Basically, human factors is the study of making sure humans can use things safety and know what they’re doing when they use things. Planes, trains, and automobiles use human factors, as do medical devices and pretty much all other products.
Product Design and Product Instructions (or lack thereof) Will be a Focus in Scooter Accident Lawsuits
When a company makes a product, it starts with how people will use the product. It designs the product to be used safely and effectively. But how does a company know the design is safe and effective? How does it know people will “get it” and be able to use it right?
Well, they should conduct a risk analysis. That involves identifying potential hazards and risks. Then they should develop controls, or ways of mitigating those risks. Of course this likely involves some testing. Human factors testing should often be part of that testing.
For example, if a car manufacturer suddenly switched where the brake and gas pedals were located on a vehicle, it is reasonably foreseeable that people would have problems resulting in accidents. People have been trained for years to expect the gas on the right and brake on the left. To switch it up would require a retraining of the brain. Accordingly, the car company has to disclose this difference, warn users to be aware of it and the attendant risks, and instruct them – with clear, noticeable wording – of the situation. To make sure its customers understand and use the vehicle safely, the company might conduct studies to actually see how it plays out in the real world. They should pay attention to the product throughout its life-cycle.
In a competitive market like the scooter market, one wonders how much analysis and testing has been done. This is a frequent problem the attorneys at KBA have seen in medical device cases. It seems that experience will come in handy as scooter accidents continue and people are injured using scooters.