Factual and Procedural Background
Bird Rides, Inc. is an app company that people can use to rent electric scooters to quickly get around Los Angeles. The company launched its scooter rental service in L.A. in 2017 and parked numerous scooters at docking stations located throughout the downtown areas. At the time it applied for a permit, Bird agreed to several rules set by the city, including not allowing its scooters to be parked within 25 feet of a street corner with a single pedestrian ramp. The company also agreed to have staff available 24 hours per day to remove scooters in emergencies and between 7 am to 10 pm to re-park scooters at docking stations that had been left away from them. Since Bird’s system is dockless, the company can locate and track its scooters throughout the city, and riders are told that they can leave them anywhere.
Sara Hacala was walking with her daughter on a sidewalk in Los Angeles just after twilight on Nov. 23, 2019. The sidewalk was crowded with holiday shoppers, and Hacala failed to see the rear tire of a Bird Scooter that was jutting out into her path from where it was parked behind a trashcan. Hacala tripped over the scooter and fell, sustaining serious physical injuries. Together with her daughter and husband, Hacala filed a lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles and Bird Rides, Inc., alleging they were negligent in how the scooter had been parked.
Hacala alleged that Bird was negligent because it failed to educate its users about their responsibility to park the scooters in areas that had been designated by the City instead of leaving them in the way of pedestrians on sidewalks. She also alleged that Bird failed to remove scooters that had been left illegally parked and to install lights on the fronts and backs of the scooters that were always on and visible from a distance of 300 feet.
Hacala also alleged in the complaint against the city that it was vicariously liable for the negligence of its employees in monitoring Bird’s compliance with the city’s permit requirements.
Both Bird and the City filed a demurrer to Hacala’s complaint and asked for the case to be dismissed. They both argued that neither owed a duty of care to Hacala to protect her against the actions of third-party riders who might negligently park the scooters they rented. The city also argued that it was immune to Hacala’s lawsuit under the California Government Claims Act. The trial court granted the demurrer to both defendants. It found that Hacala had failed to establish that she had a special relationship with either party that would give rise to a duty of care to protect her. Hacala filed an appeal.
Issue: 1) Whether the city was vicariously liable to Hacala for the negligent actions of its employees; and 2)Whether Bird Rides was liable to Hacala for failing to remove scooters parked in violation of its permit and for failing to educate its users about appropriate parking?
The California Court of Appeal considered two issues on appeal. It first considered whether the City of Los Angeles could be held vicariously liable for the negligence of its employees or if it was instead immune under the Government Claims Act. It then considered whether Bird Rides was negligent and liable to Hacala for failing to promptly remove illegally parked scooters and failing to educate its users about how to appropriately park them.
Rule: All people and entities are liable when they cause injuries by their willful actions and their ordinary negligence when managing themselves or their property.
Under Cal. Civ. Code 1714, California has codified common law liability for negligence. This law states that everyone has an ordinary duty of care to refrain from engaging in willful or negligent acts that could result in foreseeable injuries to others. The duty also extends to the management of property in addition to the management of people, which means a property owner could be liable to someone who is injured because of the property owner’s negligent management of the property.
The Court of Appeal began by considering whether the City of Los Angeles was immune from liability under the Government Claims Act. This law immunizes a governmental agency from liability when the acts or omissions of its employees cause injuries unless otherwise provided by statute. The court noted that under Gov. Code 821, public employees are immune from liability for their acts or omissions when they fail to enforce a law.
The court noted that the enforcement of the permit was discretionary rather than mandatory. When the city’s employees failed to exercise discretion to enforce the provisions of the permit, they were immune from liability. Since the employees were immune from liability, the City of Los Angeles could not be vicariously liable for their failure to enforce the permit against Bird.
The Court of Appeal then considered whether Bird owed a duty of care to Hacala and violated it by failing to gather its illegally parked scooters and to educate users and its agents about the requirements of its permit. The court first considered whether Bird owed a general duty of care to Hacala that arose from the company’s placement of its scooters on public sidewalks throughout the city and the entrustment of its property to people using the Bird app on their smartphones to rent the company’s scooters. The court noted that under Cal. Civ. Code 1714, everyone owes a general duty of care to prevent injuries to others caused by their negligent actions or omissions when managing their property.
Bird argued that it didn’t owe a duty of care to Hacala because she was not injured by Bird’s negligence but instead was injured because of the actions of a third party who rented the company’s scooter and then negligently parked it. Bird argued that since it didn’t have any control over the third party, it did not have a special relationship with Hacala and thus could not be held liable.
However, Hacala’s complaint did not allege that the actions of the third party were solely the cause of her accident and injuries and instead alleged that Bird’s own negligence in failing to retrieve its illegally parked scooters and educate its users contributed to her accident and injuries. The court noted that since Hacala’s allegations were based on Bird’s negligence instead of the negligence of the third party, a special relationship was not required to find liability on the part of Bird for Hacala’s injuries. The court also found that there was no public policy exception to Bird’s general duty of care and that a reasonable trier of fact could find that the company was liable for Hacala’s accident and the foreseeable injuries she suffered as a result of tripping and falling over a scooter without lights after dark.
The court affirmed the trial court’s finding that the City of Los Angeles was immune from liability under the Government Claims Act. It reversed the trial court’s grant of demurrer to Bird and sent the case back for further proceedings on the claims against the scooter company. Hacala was awarded her costs on the appeal.
Consult a Los Angeles Personal Injury Attorney
If you were injured by a Bird scooter that was left on a sidewalk in Los Angeles, you might have grounds to file a claim against Bird Rides. To learn more about your potential case and the legal rights that you might have, consult an experienced Los Angeles personal injury attorney at the law firm of Steven M. Sweat, Personal Injury Lawyers, APC. Call us for a free consultation today at 866.966.5240.