A 20-year-old Indiana University student was struck and killed while riding an electric scooter (e-scooter) in Bloomington, Indiana.
The accident was the second fatal e-scooter accident in Indiana this year.
Although convenient, fun, and cheap, e-scooters can be dangerous. Doctors estimate that at least 60 people visit the emergency room every month as a result of e-scooter accidents in Indianapolis alone.
Let’s take a closer look at the most recent fatal e-scooter accident in Indiana, and examine who can be held liable when someone is injured in an e-scooter accident.
Nathaniel Stratton was riding an e-scooter at the intersection of 12th and North Walnut Street in Bloomington, Indiana, when he was struck by a 2012 Mercedes-Benz.
The Mercedes was driven by Madelyn Howard, a 22-year-old woman from Crown Point, Indiana. Security footage from a nearby business revealed that Madelyn was driving the vehicle on the sidewalk when it struck Nathaniel.
Madelyn fled the scene (dragging the damaged e-scooter with her) and was located a short time later by the Indiana University Police Department in the area of 19th and Lincoln Streets.
Madelyn failed a sobriety test administered at the scene. She was ultimately charged with:
- Operating a vehicle while intoxicated (OWI) resulting in death (level 4 felony), and
- Leaving the scene of an accident resulting in serious bodily injury or death while intoxicated (level 3 felony)
Who was Nathaniel Stratton?
Nathaniel was a graduate of Minnetonka High School in Minnesota.
"This is such a tragic loss," Nathaniel’s high school principal Jeff Erickson said. "Nate was an exceptional student at MHS—immersed himself in DECA, Vantage, and many other activities—all with tremendous care, energy, and passion. He was well-respected by his peers and instructors and was a positive influence."
Nathaniel enrolled at Indiana University to study entrepreneurship and corporate innovation. He was an honor student on a scholarship at the Kelley School of Business.
Those who knew Nathan said he “loved everyone.” They described him as an amazing athlete, fearless, and a compassionate friend.
What is an e-scooter?
E-scooters are battery-operated scooters outfitted with GPS trackers and wireless connectivity.
A number of companies, including Lime, Bird Ride, and Veo, operate fleets of e-scooters within Indiana. To use an e-scooter, you simply download the appropriate app on your smartphone. The app allows you to find, reserve, unlock, and ride an e-scooter.
In 2018, e-scooters overtook bikes as the preferred micro-mobility vehicle, according to the National Association of City Transportation Vehicles (NACT).
It’s estimated that the North American e-scooter market will reach $15.41 billion by 2029.
Are e-scooters dangerous?
E-scooters are seen as cheap, environmentally-conscious alternatives to motor vehicles. But e-scooters are not without their problems. A number of recent studies have highlighted the dangers associated with e-scooters.
One 2020 study published in JAMA Surgery found that e-scooter injuries skyrocketed from 4,582 in 2014 to 14,651 in 2018. What’s more, head injuries occurred at a rate double the rate endured by cyclists (likely due to the fact that scooter riders are less likely than bicyclists to wear helmets).
A study led by Dr. Joann Elmore, a professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), found that when you account for miles traveled, the e-scooter injury rate is approximately 175 to 200 times higher than injury rates for motor vehicle travel.
The e-scooter injury rate is approximately 175 to 200 times higher than injury rates for motor vehicle travel. -Plos one Journal
Who’s liable in an Indiana e-scooter crash?
Indiana has a fault-based insurance system, which means the person responsible for the accident is responsible for paying the damages that result.
Fault is typically established by proving that someone was negligent. To prove negligence in Indiana, a plaintiff must establish that:
- The defendant owed the plaintiff a duty. All drivers and micro-mobility operators have a duty to exercise "reasonable care" to avoid harming others on the road.
- The defendant breached their duty. To prove that a driver or operator breached their duty, you have to establish that they failed to act with reasonable care. Common examples include running a red light and operating a vehicle while intoxicated.
- The plaintiff was injured as a result of the defendant's breach. It's not enough that the driver or operator failed to exercise reasonable care. The plaintiff must prove that this failure was the cause of the accident. In other words, but for the driver or operator’s action or inaction, the accident wouldn't have happened.
If more than one person is at fault (for example, if a motor vehicle driver and scooter operator are both partially at fault for an accident), Indiana’s modified comparative fault rules apply.
In rare cases, a defective scooter might be responsible for the accident. For example, the e-scooter’s throttle might stick, causing the operator to lose control. In such cases, the manufacturer of the e-scooter can be held liable under Indiana’s product liability laws.
Notably, most e-scooter companies have aggressive user agreements that require you to waive many of your rights before using the scooter. For example, some user agreements force you to agree to participate in arbitration rather than file a lawsuit in court.
Depending on the language of the user agreement and the nature of your claim, you may or may not be limited by the user agreement. As always, it’s best to speak to an experienced Indiana attorney before pursuing a lawsuit.
E-scooter safety tips
Indiana University understands the benefits and dangers of e-scooters. The University recommends the following safety tips for anyone interested in riding an e-scooter:
- Wear a helmet.
- Use common sense; scooters are motorized vehicles, not toys.
- Dress to be seen and do not operate at night.
- Share the road and never ride against traffic.
- Maintain a three-foot minimum distance from pedestrians.
- Watch the road for uneven surfaces and debris.
- Be wary of puddles and leaves that may hide in potholes.
- Drive defensively.
- Keep your eyes up and one ear free so you can see and hear what's happening around you.
Indiana University also has several recommendations for safely riding e-scooters on campus.