Electric bicycles – or “e-bikes” as they are becoming known – are rapidly joining a number of non-conventional vehicles on Orange County streets. E-bikes use an electric motor as supplemental power to assist with pedaling. The motor helps in conquering uphill grades and increases speed on level terrain. The question facing manufacturers, dealers and, of course, users, is whether the bikes can be safely ridden in urban traffic and urban terrain. A recent e-bike accident in San Juan Capistrano raises serious questions about both issues.
A suburban mother was riding her electric bike along the San Juan Creek Trail in San Juan Capistrano. She was carrying her two sons, ages 3 and 4, in supplemental seats on the bike. Both boys were buckled in and both were wearing helmets, but their mother was not. The mother briefly lost control of the bike and it struck a curb on the edge of the bike path. The e-bike, the mother, and both children were thrown onto rocks beyond the curb. One of the children suffered “major trauma” but the sibling suffered only minor injuries; both are expected to survive. Unfortunately, the boys’ mother died at the scene.
Experts and police officers said that e-bike accidents often result in more severe injuries than most accidents involving standard bikes. The increased severity of the accidents was attributed to the higher speeds of the e-bikes.
No other vehicle or person appears to have been involved in the collision, and it will be difficult to find another party liable for the accident and the mother’s death. Nevertheless, the manufacturers of these bikes may end up facing a significant number of wrongful death or injury claims based upon proof that the bikes have been negligently designed because they require operating skills that most people do not possess.
Anyone who has suffered an injury or, as happened here, lost a loved one in an e-bike collision may wish to consult an knowledgeable personal injury attorney for an evaluation of the evidence and an opinion on the likelihood of recovering damages for loss of companionship and economic support.