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How to File a Lawsuit if You Were Injured on a Bikeshare, eBike or Municipal Bike Sharing Program

What is An E-Assist Bike Lawsuit?

Simply put, an E-Assist Bike Lawsuit is a claim for damages resulting from injury against the person or company responsible for causing the injuries sustained by the bike rider. Typically, these claims include claims against the driver of a car, the driver of another bicycle, or a pedestrian depending on how the accident happened. Claims, however, can also be brought against the municipality, the bicycle maintenance company, and/or the designer, manufacturer, and/or seller of the bicycle, particularly if the accident resulted from a malfunction or defect in the bicycle.

E-Bikes and E-Assist Bikes

The first patent for an E-bike was issued in 1895, 126 years ago! Times have changed, however, and now E-Assist is accessible, lightweight, and reliable. 

Generally, an E-Assist bike incorporates a small motor. This motor can run the front wheel (a front-wheel hub motor), the rear wheel (a rear-wheel hub motor), or a mid-drive motor, which runs the chainwheel (the big gears that connect the pedals and the cranks). The E-Assist bike is also equipped with a battery, controller, and throttle control, and, sometimes, a digital display or read-out. It also comes equipped with rechargeable batteries, and, in the context of a bike-sharing program, is recharged in a bike rack (which also provides the means for renting the bike, as discussed below).

Federal regulations work in conjunction with municipal and state regulations to govern E-Assist bikes. Under Federal regulations, an E-Assist bike can only take a rider up to 28 miles per hour. Most assist systems, however, are limited to 20 miles per hour to comply with and be available to ride on separated bike paths. Of course, bike riders can exceed these speeds by pedaling, particularly downhill, but the engine will cut out once it reaches its set speed.

Given the number of moving parts on the bike and given the speeds at which the bike can move, it is easy to see how things can go wrong and a bike rider can be seriously injured as the result of careless, negligent, and reckless conduct of other bike riders, drivers, pedestrians on the roads, or the designer, manufacturer, seller, and maintenance company if something actually goes wrong with the components of the bike.

Pennsylvania Laws Regarding E-Bikes and E-Assist Bikes

Pennsylvania defines E-bikes as “pedalcycles with electric assist.” The motor must be less than 750w, with a maximum speed of 20mph (on flat surfaces with no pedal work), a weight of 100 pounds or less, and operable pedals. The same rules of the road that apply to regular bicycles apply to E-Bikes and E-Assist Bikes. Further, there is no registration, licensing, or insurance requirements such as those that apply to motor vehicles. Helmets are not required. No one under 16 years old is allowed to operate an E-Bike or E-Assist Bike. These E-Bikes and E-Assist Bikes are permitted wherever regular bikes are permitted and may be allowed on sidewalks, though this is usually subject to local rules.

What is a Bike Share Program?

Bike share programs started in Europe in the 1960s but did not come to prominence in the United States until the mid-2000s. Typical bike-share programs include station-based bikes, station-based payment systems, membership and pass fees, per-hour usage fees, and, more recently, phone-based apps. Stations tend to be sponsored and bikes generally match the station colors. Popular programs include Nice Ride in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Citi Bike in New York City, New York, Indego in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Divvy in Chicago, Illinois, and Bluebikes in Boston, Massachusetts. Ride-share programs also jumped into the bike-share program, as Lyft purchased Motivate, the largest purveyor of bike-share programs in the country at the time of purchase, and Uber purchased Jump.

E-Bikes and Personal Injuries

Bicycle falls and accidents are responsible for numerous types of severe personal injuries. Head injuries, traumatic amputation, facial and dental injuries, fractures, abdominal and chest injuries, abrasions and strains, and sprains are the most common bicycle injuries. Head injuries are a serious concern. In New York City, 74% of fatal accidents are the result of head injuries, and most riders were not wearing helmets (again, not a requirement in Pennsylvania for riding an E-Assist Bike). Skull, facial and jaw fractures, and mild traumatic brain injuries are the most common head injuries in serious accidents. Fractures in and dislocations of the fingers, hands, wrists, and clavicles are the next most common injuries. These serious and severe injuries can result in months or years of pain and therapy, significant medical bills, and interference with your life and the lives of your family. This is why, if you are in a bike-sharing program bike accident, you should consult with a Philadelphia personal injuries lawyer like those at the Reiff Law Firm, who have extensive experience in E-Assist Bike cases.

Many bike-share programs now have waivers embedded in the online app, potentially waiving your claims to bring actions for personal injuries. These are of dubious legal applicability and do not give up a claim just because the insurance company for the program tells you that you gave up your right to sue. Immediately contact an E-Assist Bike lawyer like the lawyers at The Reiff Law Firm. 

Who Do I Sue if Injured on an E-Assist Bike?

The answer to this question depends on how you were injured. If you were struck by a motor vehicle, you will sue the driver and potentially the owner of that automobile. Your own auto insurance will cover the first $5,000 of your medical bills. Tort selection, however, does not apply to your bicycle accident. Do not let the insurance company fool you into believing that you cannot recover from pain and suffering because you have limited tort. In 2004, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that tort does not apply to pedestrians because pedestrians are not operating and/or are not oriented to a motor vehicle. This also applies to bicyclists, and, therefore, you are deemed to be a full tort for purposes of any car accident versus bike claim. If your accident is caused by another bicyclist or by a pedestrian, you can sue the bike rider or pedestrian. Note, however, that insurance coverage may not be available under these circumstances from which you can recover from your injuries.

There is an increasing number of claims concerning E-Assist Bike wheel lock-ups, pedal lock-ups, motor failures, sudden accelerations, failing to warn of the danger involved in operating the E-Assist Bike, and other similar claims. This is no surprise really. The E-Assist Bike has several moving parts connected to the motor. The E-Assist Bike is generally left in an outdoor docking station with no cover from inclement weather. There is no true “penalty” system for mistreating or misusing a bike. The maintenance programs for these bikes are spotty with systemic failures in the maintenance program. Therefore, there are a number of other potential defendants, including the manufacturer of the E-Assist Bike, the supplier/distributor of the E-Assist Bike, the municipality sponsoring the bike-sharing program, and the maintenance company responsible for maintaining the E-Assist Bikes. There are numerous issues, however, in bringing a lawsuit against these entities. The municipality, for example, has immunity from certain types of personal injury lawsuits. The manufacturer may be in a foreign country. Therefore, it is important to contact a law firm with significant experience in handling these types of “product liability” claims and negligent maintenance claims, like the attorneys at the Reiff Law Firm.

The Process for Filing an E-Assist Bike Lawsuit

First, contact a personal injury attorney. The attorney will determine whether there is a potential case. The personal injury attorney will also help you gather evidence and preserve evidence so you can prove your potential claim. For example, it is important to get the E-Assist Bike off the road and into quarantine so it can be examined by the attorney and/or an expert witness to determine what went wrong. If the case cannot be resolved, the attorney will file a Complaint in the appropriate Court seeking damages for pain and suffering, embarrassment, humiliation, scarring, the loss of enjoyment of life’s pleasures, past medical bills, future medical bills, past lost wages, future lost wages, and other potential damages depending on your particular injuries.

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