Electric Bike Defects
Electric bikes (“e-bikes”) are growing in popularity. According to the Light Electric Vehicle Association, the United States imported nearly 450,000 e-bikes in 2020. Most major bike manufacturers have entered this highly competitive market. Unfortunately, electric bikes are not without flaws, and electric bike defects and accidents are a reality that can result in serious injury and even death.
Electric bike accidents may be serious since e-bikes reach up to 25 miles an hour and are permitted to share the road with cars and trucks as well as travel on bike paths and multi-use trails. They also use high-capacity batteries, which can cause an explosion or fire if defective.
There are protective measures you can take to avoid injury; however, should you or a loved one be injured or suffer property damage due to a faulty e-bike, an experienced attorney can help you evaluate your legal options for recovering damages.
What if your e-bike’s defect causes an accident?
Many e-bike safety measures are within your control, but some are not. If you are in an electric bike accident caused by a defective electric bike or any of its many components, you should be aware of who may be liable.
As with any product, manufacturers and sellers of e-bikes have a duty to sell safe products. If a defective part or incorrect assembly of your e-bike results in an accident with injury and/or property damage, the manufacturer, seller or both may be liable for damages in a product liability claim.
Examples of potential bike failures include:
- Faulty design
- Faulty assembly by the manufacturer or retailer
- Frame failure
- Defective battery
- Electrical component failure
- Brake failure
- Misaligned tires
- Uncontrolled acceleration
- Steering malfunction
- Chain failure
- Faulty mudguards
Also, a manufacturer or retailer, or anyone in the manufacturing/sales chain, may potentially be held liable for failure to warn customers of known dangers related to the product.
Can an electric bike battery explode or result in a fire?
Although uncommon, a defective, rechargeable lithium-ion e-bike battery has the potential to explode or catch fire. If this happens, you should immediately call the fire department because the fires caused by lithium-ion batteries are difficult to stop, produce toxic gases and can spread quickly. If you or a family member is injured or experiences property damage because of a defective e-bike battery, you have the right to seek compensation. PCVA attorneys are experienced in exploding battery claims. You may be entitled to compensation to cover the costs of property damage, physical or psychological impacts, or the economic losses from being unable to work.
Who is liable for my electric bike injury or property damage?
Most defective product claims in Washington State are governed by a state law called the Washington Product Liability Act (WPLA). According to the wording of the law, “A product manufacturer is subject to liability to a claimant if the claimant’s harm was proximately caused by the negligence of the manufacturer in that the product was not reasonably safe as designed or not reasonably safe because adequate warnings or instructions were not provided.”
Manufacturers are liable in the following situations:
- The product design was not “reasonably safe.”
- The product was distributed in a condition that was different from the standards of the manufacturer for goods of the same product line.
- The manufacturer did not provide adequate warnings.
- The manufacturer did not exercise reasonable care to alert consumers of danger after a defect in the product was discovered.
Product sellers, who are not manufacturers, are liable in the following situations:
- The seller’s negligence caused the product to be unsafe.
- The seller breached an express product warranty.
- The seller misrepresented the product or concealed important information about it.
- There is no manufacturer in the state to be held liable.
- The court deems it unlikely that the claimant would be able to recover damages from the manufacturer.
How does Washington State define and regulate electric bikes?
Washington State defines electric bicycles as “electric-assisted bicycles.” The electric bike must have two or three fully operational pedals for human propulsion and the electric motor must be no more than 750w.
Electric bicycles are classified as Class 1, Class 2 or Class 3, determined by the level of electric assistance and the bike’s top speed. There are no licensing and registration requirements in Washington for e-bikes; however, individuals under 16 may not operate class 3 e-bikes. Helmets are required for riders under 16, but wearing a helmet is highly recommended for all riders.
Where can you ride an e-bike in Washington State?
Electric bikes are allowed on most roads, bike lanes, bike paths and multipurpose paths, although local jurisdictions are allowed to set their own rules when necessary. Class 1 and class 2 e-bikes may ride on sidewalks, although a Class 3 e-bike may not unless there is no alternative. Know the rules before venturing out on your new e-bike.
What are the safety risks and primary causes of electric bike accidents?
A recent report suggests that e-bikes may cause more injuries than motorcycles and cars, although the injuries tend to be less severe. Accident causes include:
- Car operators and riders opening doors without looking
- Distracted driving
- Collisions in intersections
- Excessive speed
Because there are no helmet, licensing or training requirements for electric bike operators in Washington State, riders who fail to take safety seriously are exposed to substantial risk.
How can you prevent e-bike accidents and injuries?
Common injuries to electric bike riders include concussions, spinal fractures and neck injuries, extremity fractures, skull fractures, and facial fractures. More severe injuries and death, while less frequent, do occur. Safe cyclists know that bike helmets reduce the risk of serious head injuries, and safety apparel can protect from “road rash” abrasion. Safety suggestions include:
- Get to know your e-bike by reading the owner’s manual
- Wear a helmet and other protective gear
- Be visible with bright clothing, especially at night
- Use the e-bike’s lights, and add additional lights if you ride at night
- Install warning devices, such as a bell or horn
- Ride at lower speeds until you are comfortable operating the bike
- Ensure your brakes are fully functional and tires properly inflated
- Add mirrors to your e-bike if not factory-installed
Is insurance available for electric bikes?
Some carriers offer standalone policies covering electric bikes. Subject to policy limits and deductibles, they typically provide coverage for damage and theft, and may include medical payments and liability coverage as well. If you purchased a policy that covers your e-bike and experience a loss, a PCVA attorney can advise you on what your coverage will pay for and help ensure that your policy is honored.
What if you have e-bike insurance coverage and suspect bad faith?
Common law and statutes impose a duty of good faith and fair dealing on insurers, who have a duty to give equal consideration to the insured’s interest in all situations and may not put their interests ahead of the insured’s or engage in unfair practices. Unfair practices and consumer protection laws are the basis for bad faith claims. Our attorneys are well-versed and experienced in pursuing bad faith claims and are prepared to advise you and help ensure that electric bike insurers meet their policy obligations.
Who is financially responsible for e-bike accidents?
Responsibility for an e-bike-related loss depends on the specific circumstances of the accident.
- If caused by an automobile driver, that driver or their insurer may be responsible.
- If caused by a defective e-bike, its battery or an accessory, the manufacturer or seller may be liable.
- If caused by an unavoidable road defect, a municipality may be liable.
- If another e-bike rider or a pedestrian is the cause, liability may need to be determined in court.
- If you have e-bike insurance, the insurance company may be liable for paying a claim.
Our job at PCVA is to help determine liability and pursue recovery for the injured party.
What should I do after I am involved in an electric bike accident?
No matter the cause of the accident, there are a few things you should do quickly, much like you would following a car accident.
- Check for injuries, and call 911 if necessary, even if the driver tries to talk you out of it.
- Take photos of the scene of the accident, damage to your bike, injuries to you and any others, and the vehicle that hit you – its license plate and any damage.
- Get medical attention and an evaluation right away.
- Get the driver’s insurance information, driver’s license number and contact information.
- And finally, contact an experienced attorney.
How can PCVA help if you are injured in an electric bike accident?
PCVA’s experienced attorneys can help you understand your options for pursuing compensation and damages from those responsible for the electric bike accident. Schedule a no obligation consultation with one of our lawyers by completing our online form or calling us at (253) 948-3199 or (206) 536-2850. All conversations are completely confidential.
How Much Does PCVA Charge?
Our work is done on a contingency basis. This means that you do not pay us on an hourly basis, and we advance the costs of litigation. If we help you resolve your case, we receive a percentage of the amount you receive, and you reimburse us for the costs we advanced on your behalf.