TARGET 8: Dozens of people injured on electric scooters in Columbia
COLUMBIA - Bird scooter injuries are a growing problem in Columbia, with those who get hurt on the scooters left with medical bills to deal with.
Noah Touchette is a University of Missouri sophomore, who said one day when he was riding a Bird scooter back from class he crashed.
He said he flew from the scooter, rolled for about 30 feet and eventually came to a stop against the curb of the street. He was not wearing a helmet
Touchette would find out later at the hospital he broke both of his arms and had a mild concussion, days later he was in surgery.
Now, about two months later, he has six screws and a metal plate in his left arm and can only move his left arm about two inches, side-to-side.
"It just makes life a little more difficult just because of a scooter," Touchette said.
Touchette said he had ridden one of the scooters "a million times" and uses them all the time to avoid a 30 minute walk to his classes.
"It’s essential," he said. "I just wish I would have known how dangerous they are."
A Bird spokesperson told KOMU 8 News that Bird strives "to improve and enhance the well-being of our riders and communities through concrete action, including: requiring riders to upload a driver’s license and confirm they are 18 or older, providing an in-app tutorial on how to ride a Bird and how to park it, and posting clear safety instructions on each Bird.
Bird also gives free helmets out to any users who ask for them, according to the Bird spokesperson, they have given away more than 50,000 helmets.
Touchette said he never considered legal action because of the terms and conditions he agreed to when he signed up for Bird.
“I haven't really talked to Bird about it just because they put that waiver in front, that no one really pays attention to, that I’m sure covers them legally,” he said.
Kenzie Frey, MU senior, had the same thought after she broke a toe and got seven stitches when she injured her foot on a Bird scooter.
“They give you this warning sheet in the beginning but we really just skip through it," she said.
The "warning sheet" Touchette and Frey are talking about is the Bird Rental Agreement, Liability Waiver and Release.
She never thought to reach out to Bird because she had signed the agreement, just like Touchette had.
Touchette and Frey are not alone in their Bird scooter injuries, though, according to Christopher Sampson, a doctor on the emergency medicne faculty at MU Health.
“So I think all total since we’ve had the introductions of scooters in the city of Columbia we’ve probably seen anywhere from 20 to 40 different people have to be treated for injuries resulting from them," he said.
KOMU 8 News reached out to four personal injury lawyers in Columbia, only one said they have had an inquiry into a lawsuit against Bird.
David Tyson Smith, an attorney at Smith & Parnell, says he has had questions about a potential Bird scooter lawsuit and the Terms and Conditions are just a formality.
"It’s like if you have a cell phone and it says the company is not responsible for any damages that happen while you're using it and it blows up and burns your face, the company is going to get sued, regardless of what the terms and conditions say," he said.
Smith called the terms and conditions to a wall protecting Bird.
"What companies do and what defendants do is they want to add as many layers of protection as possible," he said.
Smith says Bird can use the terms and conditions as a defense, but that is not the end.
“They can raise that defense and say, 'Hey, we did it,' but that doesn't mean you can't break through that wall," Smith said.
As far as a lawsuit against Bird here in Columbia, Smith says there is not a doubt in his mind one is on the way.
In California, the state where the scooters first showed up, there is already a class-action lawsuit against Bird and other electric scooter companies for “gross negligence” and “aiding and abetting assault" according to a Washington Post article.
On the other hand, a Bird spokesperson told me the company is working to keep Bird users safe, "We have a support team dedicated to safety that is available around the clock to address questions and reports we receive."
The Bird spokesperson also told KOMU 8 News, "Bird recently formed the Global Safety Advisory Board, which will create, advise, and implement global programs, campaigns, and products to improve the safety of those riding Birds and other e-scooters."
For the meantime, Bird scooters are still available to use and can be just a bump in the road away from a serious injury.