James Heselden, the owner of Segway, Inc., died back in 2010 after driving a Segway scooter off a cliff. We imagine this news will one day be the foundation of a dramatic Segway urban legend. For now, we assume this story has tipped the world that the Segway should be taken seriously despite its ridiculous exterior. If the owner of the company can die while using his product, lay people better take caution. Unfortunately, the apparent dangers of Segway operation wasn’t so well known back in 2009.
Recently, in Ezzo v. Segway, Inc., a Connecticut jury awarded $10 million to a plaintiff who fell and allegedly suffered a traumatic brain injury while operating the motorized scooter. In September 2009, the plaintiff, a student at Southern Connecticut University, took part in a Segway obstacle course to raise money for the Special Olympics. Segway employees brought two Segways to the university for the event and discovered that they had left helmets back at the office. Rather than make a special trip back, Segway allegedly proceeded sans helmets. During a blind-folded section of the course, the plaintiff lost his balance on the scooter and hit his head on the carpeted floor. At trial, Segway argued the plaintiff fell because he blind-folded himself – not because he wasn’t wearing a helmet. The reports are silent as to who was responsible for planning the blind-folded Segway run; however, the plaintiff was instructed to wear the blindfold by a campus police officer. Segway has filed suit against the officer and the Special Olympics for indemnification.
For the record, neither Ezzo nor news of the Heselden’s unfortunate death offer any evidence that the product is defective. Contrary to what you may hear from some of our more litigious friends, sometimes people are injured by perfectly safe products. These accidents are the result of disrespect for the Segway. Heselden died while riding the scooter along a narrow, uneven walkway littered by tree roots. Ezzo was injured while driving blind-folded and helmetless. The $10 million verdict is not evidence that something is fundamentally wrong with the Segway product. Rather, as jury forewoman, Lorrie Hathway, indicated, “We felt the verdict was deserved. The company instructed their employees to wear helmets, but did nothing to protect the students.” In other words, the verdict was about Segway’s alleged failure to protect its riders.
We recognize that at first glance the Segway may appear harmless. Look again. The Segway can reach a top speed of 12.5 miles per hour. Twelve miles per hour might seem slow. However, when you consider the average cyclist travels between 12-15 miles per hour, the Segway’s top speed gets a little more perspective. How often do you see a cyclist on the road without a helmet? Maybe, we should pay the Segway the same respect.