After a 12-Year-Old's Death in Pacific Palisades, a Possible Reckoning for E-Bike Companies
Image by Ansario/ Shutterstock

After a 12-Year-Old's Death in Pacific Palisades, a Possible Reckoning for E-Bike Companies

Tragedy struck the Steinsapir family on January 31, 2021, when 12-year-old daughter Molly was gravely injured while riding as a passenger on a Rad Power RadRunner e-bike. The accident occurred in Pacific Palisades while Molly was riding on the bike's rear rack. She suffered a severe brain injury—the girl underwent multiple surgeries but passed away just two weeks later.

In early August, the LA Times reported that Molly’s attorney parents, Jonathan and Kaye Steinsapir, filed suit in a Los Angeles court against Seattle-based Rad Power Bikes, alleging negligence and product defects led to their daughter’s death.


The Steinsapirs’ suit comes as the micromobility industry continues a strong recovery from the lows of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), the number of docked bikeshare systems has nearly doubled in the past five years, with over 100 such systems in operation nationwide. In addition, the number of individual docking stations has also grown, with 8,457 currently in use.

It’s also a highly visible recovery: Travel to one of several major cities like Austin, Los Angeles or New York, and you’ll eventually spot someone zipping down the street on one kind of electric ride or another.

Molly Steinsapir was a passenger on a privately-owned RadRunner e-bike when her 11-year-old friend, who was steering, lost control. The friend was only mildly injured in the accident, and her account of what happened led the Steinsapirs to believe that the product defects such as issues with the RadRunner braking system played a role. In addition to arguing that the e-bike was defective, the lawsuit also alleges that Molly's Giro Sport Design Inc. helmet was flawed.

Responding to dot.LA's request for comment, Rad Power Bikes said, “The entire Rad Power Bikes team extends its deepest condolences to the Steinsapir family on the tragic loss of Molly Steinsapir. We are aware of the lawsuit that the family has filed. Rad Power Bikes does not comment on pending litigation, including this case, and therefore has no comment on the allegations in their complaint or the underlying accident.”

The Steinsapir’s suit goes explicitly after the bike and helmet makers. But, in general, it adds a new layer of litigation onto an industry already facing legal challenges on multiple fronts—such as when the city of San Diego sued several scooter companies in 2021 to ensure the firms would meet their obligations if they lost in court. Or when Lime was hit with a class-action lawsuit in 2020 that alleged, among other things, that the company didn’t maintain its inventory, leading to accidents and injuries. Then there are the multiple web pages maintained by law firms with titles like “New York City Electric Scooter Accident Lawyer” and “E-Scooter Disability Lawsuit.”

Additionally, as Jonathan Steinsapir told the Times, “Rad Power Bikes has simply turned a blind eye to the fact that children under 16, under 18 are using their products all over the country.”

It’s true as the Times reported that the buyer’s manual for the RadRunner neglects to mention that the bike shouldn’t be operated by people under 18 until near the end of the 57-page document. Olivier Taillieu, the attorney who filed suit on the couples’ behalf, noted that e-bikes and scooters appeal to kids because “they take you places you wouldn’t normally be able to go, which includes uphill.”

Children can easily access motorized scooters and bikes even when companies appear to take precautions. Parents might have to use an ID to open an account to rent scooters from one of the nationwide services like Lime, but once that account is established, it’s a no-brainer for kids to simply use their parents’ credentials. Then children as young as 11 can access equipment capable of speeds up to 20mph on city streets. The American Academy of Pediatrics recognized the dangers three years ago when it recommended that no one under 16 operate e-scooters or electric bikes—the same year researchers called injuries from motorized scooter use “a rising epidemic.”

As accidents happen and lawsuits mount, the e-bike industry will likely have to confront the prospect of more regulatory scrutiny from cities where they’ve established firm footholds.

steve@dot.la
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Ben Bergman is the newsroom's senior finance reporter. Previously he was a senior business reporter and host at KPCC, a senior producer at Gimlet Media, a producer at NPR's Morning Edition, and produced two investigative documentaries for KCET. He has been a frequent on-air contributor to business coverage on NPR and Marketplace and has written for The New York Times and Columbia Journalism Review. Ben was a 2017-2018 Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Economic and Business Journalism at Columbia Business School. In his free time, he enjoys skiing, playing poker, and cheering on The Seattle Seahawks.

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