Walking in Melbourne, an e-scooter left Julia with serious injuries and a massive hospital bill

There was a time Julia Miller wouldn’t think twice about walking on a footpath. But she now fears stepping outside, after a rented electric scooter ran her down while walking in Melbourne and left her with debilitating injuries.

“I was in constant pain for two months – it was a terrible ordeal,” she said. Three months later, she is yet to fully recover.

Julia Miller, was struck down by a hire scheme scooter near the MCG.Credit:Ben Searcy

“I can’t use my right arm properly at all – I can’t comb my hair, I can’t blow my nose, I can’t use it to eat because I can’t get it anywhere near my mouth.”

The university academic’s experience raises new questions about the city’s hire-scooter trial with operators Lime and Neuron, which has already been controversial since it started in February after a number of crashes and widespread illegal use of the 1500 scooters on city footpaths.

Bruising to Julia Miller’s side two weeks after she was hit by a hire scooter in Melbourne.

Miller is unsure if she can claim any compensation for $15,000 worth of medical bills because of a loophole in the scheme that voids Lime and Neuron’s insurance if riders are not wearing helmets, riding on footpaths or have broken any other rule.

The 60-year-old was visiting from Adelaide on April 1 and walking on the William Barak Bridge from the MCG to Birrarung Marr on April 1 with her son and partner when a woman lost control of a Lime scooter and hit her from behind.

She was rushed to The Alfred hospital with injuries including a fractured shoulder and fractured elbow had stayed in hospital for 12 days. She returned to hospital two months later for a reverse joint replacement on her shoulder, but still suffers pain and limited mobility requiring her to take at least five months off work.

“There’s an appalling lack of oversight – the council allows these scooters with no checks that anybody knows how to ride them,” Miller said. “E-scooter companies and local councils should take responsibility.”

Ben Rossiter, executive officer of the pedestrian advocacy group Victoria Walks, said Melbourne’s 12-month e-scooter trial – run by the Department of Transport and the Melbourne, Yarra and Port Phillip councils – was poorly managed, with rampant illegal footpath riding putting people in danger.

“When car crashes involve illegal behaviour, the victims are covered by the TAC [Transport Accident Commission], but there’s no coverage for those hit by illegal e-scooter riders, which is not fair,” he said.

Critics say illegal e-scooter use on footpaths is rampant in Melbourne’s CBD. Credit:Eddie Jim

“Operators are not being held to account. Clearly we need police out on the streets enforcing the law, and we need proper insurance cover for injured walkers.”

Lime and Neuron have almost identical insurance policies for riders and third parties, which exclude any cover if a rider has breached “local restrictions”, such as not wearing a helmet or riding on a footpath.

Victoria Police confirmed it was called to Miller’s crash and an officer issued the rider, a 20-year-old woman, two infringement notices for not wearing a helmet and “misuse” of a shared footpath.

Miller, who is exploring legal options for compensation, said scooter companies and councils needed to be held responsible for anyone injured by the scooters and called for their top speed to be lowered from 20km/h to prevent more crashes.

“There is nowhere that somebody can claim anything because they’ve had big bills, they’ve had pain and suffering and significant injuries,” she said.

Maurice Blackburn’s lead public liability lawyer Dimi Ioannou said Miller’s case, which the firm is not involved in, exposed a loophole that could leave pedestrians and riders unprotected.

“If she can’t claim under [the rider’s] home and contents insurance, there isn’t anyone else you could possibly sue,” Ioannou said. “There’s been a lot of injuries … they may turn their minds to a no-fault benefits scheme.”

Lime, the City of Melbourne and the Department of Transport did not answer questions about whether it was acceptable that pedestrians injured by hire scooters could be left paying for their own medical bills.

A spokesman for the Silicon Valley-based Lime did not comment on individual cases, but said it had investigated “any unfortunate incidents in which someone may have been injured”.

“We are proud that the overwhelming majority of our rides are completed safely both here in Melbourne and around the world,” the spokesman said. “We have numerous measures in place to prevent unsafe riding”.

The City of Melbourne’s acting Lord Mayor, Nicholas Reece, said Miller’s case “appears to have highlighted an unacceptable loophole in the current arrangements”.

“We will be investigating the issue with the operators and Victorian government,” Reece said.

The Department of Transport’s acting deputy secretary for policy, Joe Monforte, said in a statement that Lime and Neuron were required to have “significant insurance” under the trial. The department would continue working with police, councils and Lime and Neuron to “monitor and address emerging safety issues”, he said.

Lime and Neuron have deployed 1500 scooters across Melbourne, Yarra and Port Phillip, and will pay the councils $1 per scooter per day during the trial – or $182,500 each over 12 months.

A Victoria Police spokeswoman said that since the start of the year it had issued 99 infringement notices to scooter riders for not wearing a helmet, 107 for riding on a footpath and 69 riding a privately owned e-scooter.

Rossiter, from Victoria Walks, said these fines were just the “tip of the iceberg” compared with the wide-scale misuse taking place around the city.

A Neuron spokesperson said that its third-party insurance provided protection for accidental injuries but that “like other insurance products, people must be riding within the law to be covered”.

Lime claims to be the world’s largest shared electric vehicle company, operating in around 200 cities globally, and has received substantial financial backing from the ride-sharing giant Uber.

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