Bird Scooter Held Responsible for Trip and Fall Incident

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June 06, 2023
Edward Smith

Bird Rides, Inc. Found Liable in Trip and Fall Accident Case

California property owners are legally obligated to protect guests from known or reasonably foreseeable hazardous conditions to prevent possible injuries. Property owners may be held responsible for compensating the injured individual if they fail to fulfill this duty. In the case of Hacala v. Bird Rides, Inc., the Court of Appeal examined whether the company behind the Bird Scooters app had a duty of care towards a woman who sustained severe injuries after tripping and falling over a scooter that had been improperly parked, violating the company’s permit with the City of Los Angeles.

Overview of Factual and Procedural Context

Bird Rides, Inc. is a smartphone app-based company providing electric scooter rentals for efficient transportation in Los Angeles. The company introduced its scooter rental service in L.A. in 2017 and deployed scooters at various docking stations across downtown. To obtain a permit, Bird agreed to adhere to specific regulations set by the City, including guidelines such as not parking scooters within 25 feet of a street corner with a single pedestrian ramp. Additionally, Bird committed to having staff available round-the-clock for emergency scooter removal and between 7 am to 10 pm for re-parking scooters left away from docking stations. Since Bird’s scooters are dockless, users are informed that they can leave them anywhere, and the company can track and locate them throughout the City.

On November 23, 2019, Sara Hacala walked with her daughter on a sidewalk in Los Angeles shortly after sunset. The sidewalk was crowded with holiday shoppers, and Hacala unintentionally tripped over a Bird Scooter’s rear tire, which was protruding into her path from its parked position behind a trashcan. This incident caused Hacala to fall and sustain significant physical injuries. Along with her daughter and husband, Hacala initiated a lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles and Bird Rides, Inc., alleging negligence in how the scooter had been parked.

Hacala claimed that Bird was negligent because it had failed to properly inform its users about their responsibility to park the scooters in designated areas specified by the City rather than leaving them obstructing pedestrians on sidewalks. Additionally, Hacala alleged that Bird had not removed illegally parked scooters and had neglected to install lights on the front and back that were consistently illuminated and visible from 300 feet.

In the complaint against the City, Hacala further asserted that the City was vicariously liable for the negligence of its employees in monitoring Bird’s compliance with the City’s permit requirements.

Bird and the City filed a demurrer to dismiss Hacala’s lawsuit. They argued that neither party owed a duty of care to Hacala to protect her from the actions of third-party riders who might negligently park the rented scooters. The City also contended that it was immune from Hacala’s lawsuit under the California Government Claims Act. The trial court granted the demurrer, ruling in favor of both defendants. The Court determined that Hacala had not demonstrated a special relationship with either party that would establish a duty of care to protect her. Hacala subsequently appealed the decision.

Two Main Issues

On appeal, the California Court of Appeal addressed two key issues. First, it examined whether the City of Los Angeles could be held vicariously liable for the negligent actions of its employees or if it was protected by immunity under the Government Claims Act. Second, the Court considered whether Bird Rides could be deemed negligent and held responsible for failing to promptly remove unlawfully parked scooters and adequately educate its users on proper parking practices.

Under the legal rule, individuals and organizations can be liable for causing injuries through intentional acts or ordinary negligence while managing themselves or their property.

California has enacted Cal. Civ. Code 1714, which establishes joint liability for negligence. According to this law, all individuals have a general duty of care to avoid willful or negligent actions that could cause foreseeable harm to others. This duty extends not only to the management of individuals but also to the management of property. Therefore, if a property owner negligently oversees the management of their property, they can be held liable for injuries sustained by others as a result.

The Examination

The Court of Appeal initially addressed the issue of whether the City of Los Angeles was protected by immunity under the Government Claims Act. This Act grants governmental agencies immunity from liability when the actions or inactions of their employees result in injuries unless otherwise specified by law. The Court highlighted that according to Gov. Code 821, public employees are shielded from liability when they fail to enforce a law.

The Court recognized that enforcing the permit was discretionary rather than obligatory. Consequently, when the City’s employees exercised their discretion and chose not to enforce the permit’s provisions, they were immune from liability. As a result, the City of Los Angeles could not be held vicariously liable for the failure to enforce the permit against Bird.

The Court of Appeal then examined whether Bird Rides had a duty of care towards Hacala and whether they violated that duty by failing to address their illegally parked scooters and adequately educating their users and agents regarding permit requirements. Initially, the Court deliberated on whether Bird owed a general duty of care to Hacala, from placing their scooters on public sidewalks throughout the City and entrusting their property to individuals renting scooters via the Bird app on their smartphones. The Court observed that under Cal. Civ. Code 1714, there exists a general duty of care for everyone to prevent injuries caused by their negligent actions or omissions while managing their property.

Bird contended that it did not owe a duty of care to Hacala because her injuries were not a result of their negligence but rather the actions of a third party who rented the scooter and negligently parked it. Bird contended that, as they lacked control over the actions of the third party, there was no special relationship between Bird and Hacala, thereby absolving them from liability.

However, Hacala’s complaint did not solely attribute her accident and injuries to the actions of the third party. Instead, it alleged that Bird’s negligence in failing to retrieve their illegally parked scooters and educate their users contributed to the incident. The Court observed that since Hacala’s allegations were based on Bird’s negligence rather than the third party’s negligence, a special relationship was not necessary to establish Bird’s liability for Hacala’s injuries. Furthermore, the Court concluded that there was no public policy exception to Bird’s general duty of care, and a reasonable fact-finder could determine that the company was accountable for Hacala’s accident and foreseeable injuries resulting from tripping over an unlit scooter after dark.

The Court upheld the trial court’s ruling that the City of Los Angeles was immune from liability under the Government Claims Act. However, it reversed the trial court’s decision to grant demurrer to Bird and remanded the case for further proceedings regarding the claims against the scooter company. Hacala was also awarded the costs of the appeal.

If you have been injured in an accident and need an experienced personal injury lawyer, watch the following video to learn how to contact an attorney.

Consult a Sacramento Personal Injury Attorney

I’m Ed Smith, a Sacramento personal injury lawyer. If you have suffered a serious injury due to a Bird scooter left unattended on a sidewalk in Sacramento, you may have the basis to pursue a claim against the responsible party. For further information about your possible case and your legal entitlements, we recommend seeking guidance from our knowledgeable injury attorneys at Contact us today at (916) 921-6400 or (800) 404-5400 for free, friendly advice.

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Photo by Let’s Kick on Unsplash

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