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Scooter Rental Company Liable for Location of Discarded Rental Scooter?

In the recent case, Hacala v. Bird Rides, Inc. 2023 Cal. App. LEXIS 270, the Court of Appeal was asked to answer the following question:  Is Bird, a scooter rental company, liable for the location of its discarded rental scooter?

The case involved a company named Bird Rides, Inc.  For the unfamiliar, the Court summarized who Bird Rides, Inc. was and their business model:

Bird launched its electric motorized scooter rental business in the City of Los Angeles by deploying hundreds of Bird scooters onto the City’s streets and sidewalks.  Bird offers the scooters for rent through a smartphone “app” that enables Bird to control, unlock, and rent its scooters to customers who have downloaded the app from Bird’s website. The app also allows Bird to monitor and locate its scooters around the City. This feature is crucial to Bird’s business, as the company markets and offers its scooters as a “dock-less” system that allows customers to pick up and leave scooters at any public location without the inconvenience of retrieving or returning the scooters to a designated docking location. Before Bird deployed its dock-less scooters, the City granted the company a permit, under which Bird agreed, among other things, to comply with standards prohibiting scooter parking within 25 feet of a street corner with a single pedestrian ramp, to have staff available 24 hours a day for emergency scooter removals, to remove improperly parked scooters within two hours between 7:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. daily, and to educate its agents and customers to follow the City’s parking standards.

Hacala v. Bird Rides, Inc. (Apr. 10, 2023, No. B316374) ___Cal.App.5th___ [2023 Cal. App. LEXIS 270, at *2-3].

On November 23, 2019, Sara Hacala and her daughter were walking on a City sidewalk just after twilight. The sidewalk was crowded with holiday shoppers and Hacala did not see the back wheel of a Bird scooter sticking out from behind a trash can. She tripped on the scooter, fell, and sustained serious physical injuries.

As a result of these injuries, Hacala sued the City as well as Bird Rides, Inc.  For the purposes of this article, we will just focus on the case vs. Bird Rides, Inc. (Bird)

After the lawsuit was filed, Bird filed a demurrer.  The demurrer was granted without leave to amend by the Court who reasoned, “it was a ‘third-party user’ who had negligently parked the scooter, and defendants had no “special relationship” with any party that required them to protect plaintiffs from the third party’s alleged misconduct.  Hacala v. Bird Rides, Inc. (Apr. 10, 2023, No. B316374) ___Cal.App.5th___ [2023 Cal. App. LEXIS 270, at *3].)

Hacala appealed.

On appeal, the Court noted, “having deployed its dock-less scooters onto public streets, Bird’s general duty encompasses an obligation, among other things, to use ordinary care to locate and move a Bird scooter when the scooter poses an unreasonable risk of danger to others. Moreover, because it was foreseeable that someone could be injured if Bird breached this duty, and because Bird agreed to take measures to prevent such injuries when it obtained the permit from the City, we cannot find that public policy clearly supports an exception to the fundamental principle that a company like Bird is liable for injuries proximately caused by its want of ordinary care in the management of its property.

Hacala v. Bird Rides, Inc. (Apr. 10, 2023, No. B316374) ___Cal.App.5th___ [2023 Cal. App. LEXIS 270, at *4].

Ultimately, the Court held that Bird owed the plaintiffs a duty to use ordinary care int eh management of its property (scooters).  This duty of care under Civ. Code, § 1714, encompassed an obligation not to entrust its scooters to individuals who the rental business knew or should have known were likely to leave scooters in hazardous locations where they would pose an unreasonable risk of harm to others

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