Electric bikes, or e-bikes, have gained immense popularity in recent years as an alternative mode of transportation. They offer a convenient and eco-friendly way to get around, with the added benefit of electric assistance that makes cycling less physically demanding. E-bike sales are rising all around the country, but they are especially common in urban areas where they provide transportation for fast and easy commuting and delivery services. However, many electric bicycles are purely for recreational use.
One of the most attractive aspects of e-bikes is their ability to make cycling more accessible to a wider range of people. They allow riders to travel further with less physical exertion, making them ideal for older adults, people with physical limitations, or those looking to travel long distances. But as these cutting-edge bicycles grow in number, it is becoming increasingly evident that there are serious risks associated with e-bikes that may require the assistance of a bicycle accident lawyer.
What are e-bikes, and how do they work?
Like electric cars, electric bikes are essentially battery-powered bikes. They look much like traditional bicycles but with added electric components that provide energy to aid the rider, making pedaling easier and transportation faster. E-bikes come in different styles; some are pedal-assist, where the motor only provides power when the rider pedals. Others are throttle-based, where a rider can activate the motor at any time.
E-bikes use lithium-ion batteries in their design, making them rechargeable and lightweight. But these batteries heralded as compact, efficient, and eco-friendly, have been the source of a growing number of catastrophic e-bike accidents. Yet because many people are unaware of the dangers of e-bikes, imports continue to increase alongside the growing demand.
The history and expanding popularity of e-bikes
Despite their potential to mitigate issues caused by gas-powered vehicles, such as carbon emissions and urban traffic congestion, electric bikes were initially slow to pick up traction in the U.S. However, the COVID-19 pandemic brought these niche products to the mainstream as people sought socially-distanced outdoor activities and alternatives to public transport during lockdowns.
Additionally, the surge in takeout orders and delivery app usage resulted in a massive increase in e-bike use among delivery workers, leading to staggering growth in e-bike sales across the United States. The Light Electric Vehicle Association estimated that companies imported around 880,000 electric bikes in 2021, nearly double the amount from the previous year. But one of the side effects of this explosion in popularity was, in some cases, the literal explosions of e-bikes.
Lithium-ion batteries: environmentally sustainable but volatile
Lithium-ion batteries are common in electric bikes because of their high energy density, lightweight design, and long lifespan. They are rechargeable and provide the power for e-bike motors to operate effectively. However, there has been a growing number of cases where lithium-ion batteries have malfunctioned and caused explosions, fires, and other hazards. This is because lithium-ion batteries use certain electrolytes that are highly flammable and can produce excessive amounts of heat when they are overused, charged, or discharged too quickly or charged for too long.
Also, if a battery is damaged, poorly made, or improperly assembled, spontaneous fires and explosions can occur, leading to property damage, injuries, and even death. If this weren’t enough, faulty batteries can lead to other hazards. For example, if a battery malfunction while a rider is cycling at high speed, it can suddenly cause the e-bike to lose power, potentially leading to a crash.
The massive damage battery explosions can cause
The severity of the damage caused by a faulty lithium-ion battery depends on several factors, including the size and capacity of the battery, the type of e-bike, and the conditions under which the battery malfunctions. Sometimes, malfunctions may lead to only minor damages or injuries. But in many cases, the explosions resulting from these volatile devices can be bomb-like.
Dan Flynn, the chief fire marshal at the New York Fire Department, stated to NPR on the terrifying force with which these bikes sometimes go off: “These bikes, when they fail, they fail like a blowtorch. We’ve seen incidents where people have described them as explosive incidents where they actually have so much power; they’re actually blowing walls down in between rooms and apartments.”
He described the projectile nature e-bike batteries can take on in the event of a malfunction. “In the battery pack, when they fail, they can shoot these cells as far as 60 feet, so multiple fires can be related to the battery failing.”
Cases of catastrophic e-bike incidents are on the rise
With rising e-bike sales, the U.S. has seen an increase in accidents caused by defective batteries. However, urban areas and large cities have represented the greatest proportion of e-bike accidents.
In 2021, New York City alone reported 104 fires from electric bikes and scooters, resulting in four deaths. By the end of 2022, the FDNY attributed 202 fires, 142 injuries, and six deaths to e-bike batteries. A number of the casualties reported were young children.
Other large cities throughout the U.S., as well as cities abroad, are noting dangerous trends as well. In London, there were more than 70 fires and explosions due to e-bike batteries in 2021. Last year, five fatalities resulting from e-bike fires happened in Vancouver, Canada. In China, electric bikes were commonplace long before they gained popularity in the U.S. From 2013 to 2017, the country saw 10,000 e-bike fires and more than 200 deaths associated with e-bike accidents.
Injuries relating to e-bike explosions
When a lithium-ion battery in an electric bike ignites or explodes, it can quickly release a massive amount of energy, potentially leading to incapacitating injuries. One of the most common injuries caused by e-bike explosions is burns, ranging from minor to severe.
The number and severity of burns sustained in these accidents often depend on the size and intensity of the explosion and the proximity of the victim to the e-bike at the time of the incident. Burns can result from direct contact with the battery or its components or exposure to the flames or heat generated by the explosion.
In addition to burns, battery explosions can cause painful lacerations, bruises, and broken bones due to projectile debris. Injuries can be even more severe when an e-bike is in use during a malfunction, as the explosion can send the rider flying off the bike with incredible force. The increasing number of explosions from faulty batteries will likely result in many more injuries, disfigurements, and deaths.
Property damage resulting from lithium-ion battery malfunctions
Even when e-bike explosions don’t physically harm a person, they often result in significant damage to property, leading to massive financial burdens. Because people often store e-bikes in garages, there is an increased risk of damaging other vehicles, expensive outdoor equipment, and other valuable objects nearby. Garages and sheds are also more likely to present fire hazards that can exacerbate an explosion.
Nearby flammable materials such as gasoline and paint can easily ignite, resulting in a fire that spreads rapidly through the rest of the building and is difficult to extinguish. Many victims of malfunctioning e-bike batteries have lost entire homes in the resulting fires. Then, of course, there is the cost of the bikes themselves. Generally, electric bikes cost hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars. In cases where customers lack a warranty or insurance or cannot prove what caused a fire, they might have to foot the bill.
The failure to address the dangers of e-bikes
At this point, one question is likely popping up in many minds: Why is this continuing to happen? Unfortunately, companies are doing little to mitigate the dangers of e-bikes or prevent the accidents they cause. Most manufacturers and distributors seem unable (or perhaps unwilling) to solve the problem. One issue is that some manufacturers may prioritize profit over safety, using lower quality or less safe components to keep costs down.
Additionally, some manufacturers may not conduct sufficient testing or quality control to ensure that bikes and their batteries are safe, durable, and reliable. Distributors can also do more to protect their customers, such as providing adequate information and safety warnings about the potential dangers of lithium-ion batteries. If e-bike users knew about the risks of overcharging and overuse, we might see fewer battery-related accidents and, ultimately, fewer injuries and casualties.
The troubling issues with the regulation of e-bikes
Across industries, product regulations are in place to ensure safety and prevent legal liability, and often, these regulations effectively serve their purpose. In past cases where products or services were dangerous to their consumers, companies usually took measures to reduce or eliminate the associated risks.
Sometimes, unsafe products are restricted or even banned from distribution. But in the case of explosive e-bike batteries, legal technicalities are at play that creates, in essence, a regulatory black hole. This means that e-bike companies can continue acting negligently and with devastating consequences.
Large agencies that govern workplace and road safety, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), generally don’t handle regulations relating to electric bikes. Consequently, the burden is on agencies like the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), whose reach, influence, and budget are much more limited.
Because the CPSC has less power over the companies they manage, this leaves room for e-bike and lithium-ion battery manufacturers to sell subpar products with little to no legal repercussions.
While these dangerous e-bikes are still available for use across the United States, we will continue to see injuries due to the battery and other causes. Talk to an e-bike accident attorney today about your injuries if you were in an e-bike accident due to a product malfunction.
E-bike accidents and legal liability
When defective e-bikes cause property damage, injuries, or deaths, holding an at-fault party accountable can be difficult. Even when there is proof of specific negligence, the lack of regulations and unique circumstances surrounding using e-bikes can present potential pitfalls. For instance, electric bike manufacturers may blame battery manufacturers and vice versa, allowing both parties to take advantage of loose regulations.
Also, food delivery workers are often independent contractors. This gives them little recourse for acting against the companies they work for, even when the company gives them e-bikes to use for their deliveries. However, with the help of an experienced attorney, it’s still possible for victims of e-bike accidents to file claims against negligent parties, potentially recovering sizable damages.
What to do if an e-bike causes an injury, property damage, or the loss of a loved one
Due to the growing number of e-bikes in the United States, you or someone you know may have been in an e-bike-related accident. But the companies that manufacture and distribute defective products should not be allowed to exploit legal loopholes to get away with negligence. You can file a personal injury claim if an electric bike, battery fire, or other harmful product hurts you. You may also seek compensation for any property damages resulting from a faulty e-bike. If a relative was killed in an e-bike accident, filing a wrongful death lawsuit may be an option.
To increase your odds of a successful outcome, follow the steps outlined below to prepare your case.
- Take photos of the scene, injuries, and any damaged property.
- Compile relevant documentation such as medical records and police reports.
- Take down contact information and personal statements from any witnesses.
- Call an experienced lawyer who can help you get the compensation you deserve.
An experienced e-bike accident attorney knows how to win lawsuits. They understand the unique and complex legal landscape around electric bike accidents and can help you navigate it.
The right lawyer will know who to hold accountable, which damages to claim, and how to build air-tight cases from start to finish that result in satisfying outcomes for their clients. An attorney can guide you through each step of the litigation process while keeping you at the helm concerning each decision.
Contact an experienced and compassionate personal injury lawyer in San Antonio today to schedule your free case review.