ATLANTA - It can happen with just a tap of the toe. One moment you are joyfully riding an e-scooter. And then, you're not.
Fatal accidents, like the one between a Cobb County bus in Midtown and an e-scooter rider, caught the attention of the public and politicians.
Now, that COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted and vaccines injected, those e-scooter Birds - and other brands - are once again in flight. Until that rare moment when you fall.
More than 250 injuries since February of 2019, according to Atlanta city statistics. And, that includes a fairly quiet period during the pandemic. At least four people have died.
Most rides are convenient, picturesque, and uneventful. Bumpy city streets, inattention, or malfunction can create an instant accident. Users know what they are getting into when they hop aboard.
But, what many riders may not know is buried deep in a rental agreement on the e-scooter apps. A warning with instructions that you give up your right to sue the company or join a class action lawsuit if something goes wrong.
Patricia Randall learned the hard way. She has always loved the thrill of speed. On her horse. Motorcycle. Her own e-scooter which she took with her on cross-country RV trips.
So, on a quick vacation in downtown Atlanta, jumping on a Bird scooter seemed natural.
Until it wasn't.
"It, all of a sudden, it just accelerated forward really fast and it threw me forward. And, there was nothing I could do to recover. All I could do was scream," said rider Patricia Randall.
She says she fell face first and fractured bones in her cheeks, and broke her thigh bone.
"When I tell you I was in pain, it was like. It was nothing anyone should ever feel," said Randall.
As she lay on the sidewalk in agony, she says someone picked up her malfunctioning scooter and rode off.
"I wish I could have stopped him, could have warned him," said Randall.
So, she decided to sue. Until she found out she couldn't.
When you sign up to ride with Bird, your phone app gets a forty-eight-page digital document, in tiny, phone size print. Deep into the app, on page 30, it warns you: "READ THIS SECTION CAREFULLY - IT MAY SIGNIFICANTLY AFFECT YOUR LEGAL RIGHTS."
What rights are you losing? That your "sole means" of resolving a legal dispute is not in a Georgia courtroom, rather it is in arbitration in "Los Angeles, California"
In short, you not only can't sue the company locally. You can't sue at all. Except for a small court claim.
"You have to arbitrate this claim, and you'd have to arbitrate it in California," said Louis Levenson.
Attorney Louis Levenson has multiple clients battling the e-scooter industry, including Patricia Randall. He believes many riders don't read the agreement that they sign when they start their trip.
All four licensed scooter companies in Atlanta have some kind of arbitration agreement. Spin allows you to file arbitration here in Atlanta. But, the other companies, according to their user agreement, could make you travel as far away as New York or Indiana for arbitration.
Or somewhere closer, if both sides mutually agree.
"It's definitely one-sided. They have a get-out-of-jail-free card," said Randall.
There is only one way to retain your right to sue Bird in a real courtroom with a real judge or jury. You have to write the company at their mailing address in California telling them you wish to opt-out of the arbitration agreement.
But don't wait. You have to mail that letter no more than thirty days after your first ride.
"It is inherently represented as a safe mode of transport. But, the documents you have to click on suggest you are giving up all your rights, assuming all the risks, and for the most part, people don't understand that," said Levenson.
We tried to talk with Bird. We emailed, called, and sent Linked In requests. No one responded. We noticed their web page touts new safety features, like slower acceleration, autonomous emergency braking, and skid detection software.
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