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Electric scooters and product liability

Small electric scooters are becoming a common sight in American cities, including Roanoke. Companies such as Bolt and Lime leave the scooters at various spots so that people can grab one, for a fee, when they need a quick trip around town.

Many people enjoy the convenience of these services, as well as the thrill of zipping along city streets. However, they also have a lot of detractors. Some city residents resent the way riders simply leave the scooters at their destinations, sometimes blocking sidewalks.

More seriously, safety advocates warn that riders may not fully appreciate the risks and hazards they are facing. A study by the Centers for Disease Control found that about 20 people were injured for every 100,000 trips taken on e-scooters during a three-month period last year. Other studies have come to similar conclusions.

Many of the injuries could have been prevented by the riders themselves. Almost all the injuries reported were head injuries that might have been prevented had the rider worn a helmet. About half involved riders who were intoxicated.

E-scooter rental companies typically ask renters to sign a waiver acknowledging that they are assuming the risks involved themselves, and won't try to hold the rental company liable for their damages if they are injured. Virginia law does not allow this kind of waiver.

It's too early to say how the law will respond to e-scooter injuries, but product liability may come into play. Product liability can hold companies liable for damages after a consumer is injured due to a product defect, including a defect in marketing. Defective marketing can include insufficient or misleading information about how to use the product safely.

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