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San Diego proposes crackdown on Segway tour companies after $1.7-million payout

San Diego proposes crackdown on Segway tour companies after $1.7-million payout
A woman walked past a group on a Segway tour that got caught in the rain downtown on Broadway. (John Gastaldo / San Diego Union-Tribune)

San Diego plans to crack down on Segway tour operators in the wake of a $1.7-million injury settlement in June and another lawsuit filed last spring that claims a protruding sidewalk caused the death of a Segway rider two years ago.

An ordinance proposed by city officials would require Segway tour companies to apply for special permits, follow safety procedures and obtain commercial liability insurance of at least $2 million per case and $4 million per year.

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The ordinance aims to shrink the number of injury crashes and limit the city’s vulnerability to large payouts when injuries occur.

In the case that led to the $1.7-million settlement, the tour company that rented out the Segway didn’t contribute to the payout because it didn’t have liability insurance and the company’s owner had limited assets.

Invented in 2002, Segways are two-wheeled motorized vehicles that carry one person standing upright. Segway is the name of the leading company in the industry. In order to make sure the city’s new law would also apply to competitors, it refers to the vehicles as “electronic assistive personal mobility devices.”

The new law would not apply to the electric scooters that are becoming increasingly popular in cities across the state. San Diego officials are exploring separate legislation for those devices.

The ordinance would require Segway tour companies to obtain a special permit requiring them to have adequate insurance and follow new safety procedures.

Those would include prohibiting Segway use by intoxicated people, requiring users younger than 18 to be accompanied by an adult, requiring tour guides to have a driver’s license and conducting on-site training for all riders before tours.

Companies would have to pay a $48 annual fee for a permit.

The new legislation follows the $1.7-million payout by the city to a woman whose pelvis was shattered in a Segway crash on a La Jolla street three years ago.

The settlement includes $1.5 million for Regina Capobianco and $200,000 for her husband, Christopher Capobianco, because her injuries damaged their marriage.

Regina Copabianco was injured when she drove a Segway over a large area of broken and damaged street in July 2015. Her shattered pelvis required surgery to screw in metal plates.

Copabianco’s lawsuit, filed in July 2016 after the city rejected a claim for damages, said she needs intense physical therapy and relies predominantly on a wheelchair to get around.

In addition to money for medical expenses and to cover pain and suffering, her lawsuit sought compensation for lost wages because Capobianco can no longer perform the full-time job she had before the Segway crash.

A few months before the city settled Capobianco’s case, the family of Jeff Hassett filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city blaming a protruding sidewalk in Old Town for his eventual death.

The suit, filed by Hassett’s four siblings, said Hassett struck a 3-inch to 4-inch concrete stub in the sidewalk while riding a Segway in March 2016. The stub was created by the removal of a light pole on Taylor Street.

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Hassett suffered broken ribs, a toe injury that required amputation and damage to an internal heart defibrillator. The heart issue and an infection eventually caused his death in May 2016.

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