eBikes, eScooters, and eUnicycles – Oh My!

When you hear the words “personal injury”, you tend to think of an automobile accident.  But we all know that personal injury embodies a host of different accidents and injuries such as taxi, Uber, bus, motorcycle, bicycle, and pedestrian to name just a few.

When you hear the words, motor vehicle accident, you also tend to think automobile accident.  But what constitutes a motor vehicle? A vehicle?  A device?

Consider the addition of electric bikes and electric scooters, not to mention a host of other electric modes of human propulsion.

These new electric means of transportation are creating a challenge when it comes to personal injury claims for individuals injured while riding these.  The laws don’t appear to be exactly clear, and they seem to be changing.

Some clarification…

 eBike

An electric bike is a bicycle that has a battery-powered motor that provides the rider with pedal assistance. Pedal assistance is the motor providing extra power while you pedal.

eBikes are classified into one of three categories:

  1. Class one.  An eBike that uses only pedal assistance and has a max speed of 20 mph. Class one is considered a bicycle. Wherever you can ride a bicycle, you can ride a class one eBike.
  2. Class two.  An eBike that uses pedal assistance and a throttle and has a max speed of 20mph. Class 2 eBikes can be ridden almost anywhere a class 1 eBike can be ridden. There are some counties/states that will not allow Class 2 eBikes on naturally paved/dirt/single-track trails.
  3. Class three.  An eBike that uses pedal assistance and a throttle and has a max speed of 28mph. Class 3 eBikes can be ridden on roads and in bike lanes. Note: these are defined as motorized bikes.  They have a minimum age of 15 years and require a license, registration, and insurance.

As long as your eBike is a Class one or two, you do not need any special license to ride the bike, nor do you need insurance or registration.

eScooters

An eScooter, or to be correct – a low-speed electric scooter – is defined as “a scooter with a floorboard that can be stood upon by the operator, wit handlebars, and an electric motor that is capable of propelling the device with or without human propulsion at a maximum speed of less than 19 miles per hour.”

 

Wait, what about a hoverboard?

There are a host of other transportation devices that fall under the category Motorized Scooter.  They include pocket bikes, super pocket bikes, scooters, mini-scooters, sport scooters, mini choppers, mini motorcycles, motorized skateboards, and hoverboards to name a few. New Jersey state law prohibits the operation of motorized scooters on public roads, sidewalks, or public lands.

Although my research failed to discover, I am going to assume, that an Electric Unicycle also falls under the category of Motorized Scooter (and not that of Electric Scooter since it does not have a handle).  An electric unicycle is a self-balancing personal transporter with a single wheel. The rider controls speed by leaning forwards or backwards, and steers by twisting or tilting the unit side to side.  They are, in this writer’s humble opinion, crazy.  They can reach speeds of 60 mph!  They’re clearly the daredevil of electric transportation devices.  They’re illegal on public streets yet I was passed by one on Haddonfield Rd in Cherry Hill one morning.  It looked like Robert Downey Jr in the Iron Man had just flown by.  Good luck stopping in time if a driver doesn’t see you and pulls out directly in front of you.  But I digress.

Electric Mobility Scooters

The motorized scooter category does not include electric wheelchairs, electric mobility scooters, or any other device designed to assist those with physical disabilities.  These are battery powered mobility devices that can travel from 3 mph up to 18 mph, and as such, do not require a license or registration.

 

The Law

Previous to May 14, 2019, eBikes were classified as motorized bicycles, such as a moped, and required registration.  Since the law was written for gas-powered vehicles, the MVC would not allow registration and eBikes were left in limbo.

Furthermore, NJ auto insurance policies provide PIP benefits to individuals injured in a motor vehicle as well as to pedestrians.  This extends to bicyclists as well, categorizing them as pedestrians.  But not all vehicles are afforded PIP coverage.  For instance, motorcycles are not covered. Whether or not eBikes were covered was very unclear and further left eBikes in limbo.

Since May 14, 2019, we have N.J. Stat. § 39:4-14.16 Operation of low-speed electric bicycle or scooter.  A press release from Governor Murphy and the New Jersey Legislature stated in part: “The bill calls for motorized scooters and e-bikes capable of traveling 20 miles per hour or slower to be regulated much the same as ordinary bicycles…..all statutes, rules, and regulations that apply to ordinary bicycles will apply to low-speed electric bicycles and motorized scooters.”

Therefore, since eBikes and eScooters are under the classification of bicycle, and pursuant to NJ law, cyclists are considered pedestrians, an individual hit and injured by a car while riding an eBike or eScooter, may make a PIP claim with their auto insurance carrier.

The bill covers Class 1 and 2 eBikes and eScooters.  It does not cover the many other means of micromobility deemed motorized scooters.

A challenge to the system.

On 11/22/21, David Goyco was operating a Segway and was struck by an automobile on West Grand Street in Elizabeth, NJ.  Sustaining injuries and incurring medical expenses, he filed a claim for PIP benefits under his auto insurance but was denied.

By definition, a Segway falls under the category of eScooter, which is to be treated as a bicycle, which is to be treated as a pedestrian, which should be afforded PIP benefits.  Mr. Goyco appealed the denial.

What ensued was a fascinating trip (for me) through Union County Superior Court, the appeals court, and the NJ Supreme Court.  Reading the arguments from both sides appeared (again, to me) as an exercise in legal semantics.  A bit of a challenge for a layperson to follow but fascinating, nonetheless.  “Motor vehicle, vehicle, device, human propulsion, other than muscular power, pedestrian, bicycles, electric bicycles, electric scooters, and even roller skates, horses, and sleds” are all searchable keywords.

David Karbasian, arguing for amicus curiae New Jersey Association for Justice, supported the plaintiff.  “Whether you find, with regard to this matter, that this was simply just a device, therefore entitled to PIP benefits, or whether you find it akin to a bicycle, I think either of those arguments and analogies can be drawn to find this particular plaintiff, Mr. Goyco, was entitled to benefits,” Karbasian told the court.

A possible change to the law.

The Legislature is already working on and has advanced new legislation that would treat eBikes like motor vehicles.

Bill S2292 would require owners of two or three-wheeled electric bicycles and electric scooters to register their vehicles with the state Motor Vehicle Commission and to maintain insurance coverage (liability, PIP, pedestrian, and uninsured).  Stay tuned.

What ifs:

What ifs are fun.  They rarely happen but they’re fun to nerd-out to if you enjoy debating the many different scenarios of liability like I do.

You’re playing golf and traveling in one of the course’s golf carts.  To get from the green of one hole to the t-box of the next hole, you must cross a street.  In doing so, you are struck by an automobile.  Or you finish your round and decide to drive the golf cart through the parking lot to drop your clubs at your car.  In doing so, an automobile backs out and strikes you.  Can you file a PIP claim with your auto insurance?

You’re a passenger in the sidecar of a motorcycle with an attached sidecar that is involved in an accident.  Can you file a PIP claim with your auto insurance?

What about adult electric tricycle cars?  Small enclosed cars with 1-4 seats.

What about ATVs?  Most are categorized as motorcycles, but they do make small, electric, battery propelled quads.

 

How about this actual case scenario?  I had a patient and his wife sitting at a red light.  An opposing vehicle failed to stop at the red light and entered the intersection where it was t-boned by a driver entering the intersection with the green light.  The striking car bounced off and headed toward my patients but missed them.  Instead, it struck a utility pole.  The utility pole snapped, fell, and landed on the roof of my patient’s car, crushing the roof, and injuring the patient and his wife inside.

Do you have your own what if?  Your own strange, out of the ordinary scenario that you’d like to share with us?  Send it to me and I’ll highlight it in my next blog issue.

The laws, liability, and insurance coverage for all these “other than automobile” vehicles, are both interesting and at times, fluid.  If you have a client injured in ANY type of vehicle, rest assured you can get them treated as well as have their injuries fully documented here with us.  Simply give us a call and we’ll be happy to help.

 

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