MID-CITY, LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Bird scooters may be taking off in cities all across Southern California, but so are questions about their safety. An ex-employee of the electric scooter company claims the business is putting the public at risk.
The battery-powered scooters can reach speeds up to 15 mph and often are ridden -- illegally -- on sidewalks and without helmets.
But a former field operations associate for Bird, also known as a "Bird watcher," says that many of the scooters the company puts out on the streets are not maintained properly and are in unsafe condition.
Matt Fisher spent nearly a year working for Bird, first as a charger, then as a field operations associate tasked with repairing the scooters. Fisher says Bird officials told him to ignore problems like stripped or missing screws and loose handlebars.
"I don't want to see people get hurt," Fisher said. "There's too many companies out there doing this the right way. Bird's choosing not to do it the right way. You can die. They can come into two pieces and next thing you know you're sliding across the pavement at 15 miles an hour. A car can run you over."
Fisher showed Eyewitness News an internal message sent by a Bird official. It says problems with scooter brakes should be listed as "damaged," but missing or damaged screws, loose necks or handlebars and other problems should not be a reason to take a Bird scooter off the road.
The man behind the internal message was Marwan Metwally, identified as an operational specialist with Bird. He didn't respond to ABC7's requests for comment.
Bird's corporate spokesman, however, provided Eyewitness News with a written statement, saying safety is the company's No. 1 priority and saying riders should let them know when they spot scooter problems.
"We strongly recommend reporting any damaged scooters or incidents that Bird scooters are involved in, as we have a support team dedicated to safety that is available around the clock to address questions and reports we receive," read the Bird statement.
But Fisher says Bird doesn't want to hear from people like him.
"They fired me because I spoke up about the repairs and said it was dangerous, and it was going to harm people," Fisher said. "And I continued to mark them as damaged."
When Fisher posted the problems with Bird scooters online, he says Bird threatened to sue him for violating a non-disclosure agreement. They sent him a cease-and-desist letter.
Meantime, Bird-related injuries continue to mount.
"I tried to hit the brakes and it wouldn't not stop," said customer Lisa Beardsley of her last experience with a Bird scooter. "I went out of control and flew off of it, slid about 5 to 8 feet."
Beardsley said she broke her wrist and suffered other injuries. She is now suing Bird.
Her attorney, Catherine Lerer, has a long list of clients who say scooter safety problems led to serious injuries. Lerer says she's spoken with 200 to 300 people hurt by electric scooters in just the last eight months, most of whom didn't realize how many of their rights they signed away when they accepted the 58 pages-worth of small print in the user agreement.
"Riders who download the app sign an agreement that says they waive any right to sue for negligence," Lerer said.
She added that her firm is working to get that clause thrown out. Until that happens, Beardsley says if you see a Bird scooter, keep walking.
"Stay off of it, basically, because they're not safe," she said.
Bird scooters have unsafe maintenance problem, whistleblower says