Rarely content with the present, humans love to imagine what the future will look like. Many people are fascinated with the next scientific or technological advance. Ordinary gadgets of today like tanks, earbuds, video phones, rockets and helicopters were all previously considered to be outlandish sci-fi creations. Personal mobility electric vehicles, one of the most anticipated products of the last ten years, were once described as the future of transport. Launched in 2001 in a blizzard of publicity, the Segway PT is a two-wheeled, self-balancing, battery-powered electric vehicle. With a name derived from the word “segue,” the human transporter has had anything but a smooth transition.
Resembling a high-tech scooter, the keys to the Segway’s operation are its gyroscopes and tilt sensors that work with the user’s body to achieve a sophisticated balancing act. While it hasn’t reached its inventor’s prediction that it “will be to the car what the car was to the horse and buggy,” Segways are used by some police officers, airport security personnel, commuters and by groups at tourist destinations. For example, several local companies offer Segway tours of attractions throughout Fort Lauderdale and Miami, as well as cater to private parties and corporate team building events. On the other hand, the Walt Disney World Company has banned Segways from Disney Resorts because the company considers them to be too dangerous.
Certainly, riders have been hurt, many from falling off after striking inanimate objects such as benches, poles or trees. Facial trauma, contusions, lacerations, sprains, fractures and brain damage are common injuries. There have also been several fatalities. Unbelievably, the British businessman who bought the Segway company in 2009 died less than a year later when he apparently drove one of the devices off a cliff.
Furthermore, bystanders are not immune. Capable of speeds up to 12 mph and often ridden on the sidewalk, Segways have been involved in a number of pedestrian accidents. Just this spring, a Miami Beach resident was awarded damages for a 2012 incident that left her seriously injured when she was struck from behind by a man riding a Segway as they traveled in the same direction on a sidewalk. Suffering a crushed leg, the elderly woman underwent several painful corrective surgeries, developed bladder/kidney complications while in the hospital, and was left with life-long balance problems, leg weakness and daily pain. After spending 7 months in the hospital, the otherwise active, healthy, independent woman was faced with hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills. While the jury awarded the plaintiff reimbursement for her past medical expenses, it awarded only $40,500 for pain and suffering. Determining that the jury award was not enough, the judge entered an order increasing the award to $499,000, calling the amount “more in keeping with awards in similar cases.”
The accident helped persuade Miami Beach to change its laws for Segway-type devices such that it’s no longer legal to ride a Segway on some city sidewalks. In fact, Segways have been banned from sidewalks in many municipalities, including Las Vegas where they are categorized alongside rickshaws and pedicabs as too dangerous for the crowded walkways. Other places, such as San Francisco and Washington, D.C., have banned them from sidewalks, but permit usage in bike lanes.
If you are planning on taking a Segway for a spin, observe these precautions:
- Wear a helmet.
- Pay attention to your surroundings.
- Treat the Segway as a motor vehicle, not a toy.
- Practice until you feel comfortable with the machine.
As one of South Florida's most respected and oldest law firms, Stabinski & Funt, P.A. has been the firm to trust for legal issues involving a wide range of personal injuries. If you wish to learn more about how our firm can be of assistance to you, we encourage you to contact us today by calling (305) 643-3100 or filling out a free case evaluation form.