One of the most popular gifts during the 2015 holiday season was the hoverboard, with 7,500 units selling on eBay on Cyber Monday. (That’s one hoverboard every 12 seconds!) These self-balancing scooters operate similarly to a Segway – you steer with your feet, moving the scooter in the direction that you lean in. Hoverboards have gained popularity in recent months after celebrities like Justin Bieber and Wiz Khalifa were seen riding them. Riding a hoverboard takes some skill as the numerous videos of ‘hoverboard fails‘ can attest to.
But falling from a hoverboard is not the only danger this product poses. There have been many reports in the media recently of hoverboards catching on fire.
- In Sacramento, the fire department was called to a home where a hoverboard had caught fire while charging, causing $5000 worth of damage.
- Another hoverboard started smoking while it was being ridden through the streets of Los Angeles and later burst into flames.
- In Maryland, a charging hoverboard ignited and then rolled over to a bed, causing the bed to catch fire.
- In Louisiana, a hoverboard was charging “when flames started shooting from both ends.”
The Consumer Product Safety Commission is now investigating the numerous claims of hoverboard fires. Certain airlines are not allowing passengers to bring hoverboards on to the plane for fear of a fire. The cause of the fires is believed to be the lithium ion batteries that are used to power the hoverboard. The batteries overheat and then the hoverboard catches on fire.
Companies who manufacture and sell defective products can be held liable for injuries sustained from their products. There are three theories of liability that a plaintiff can allege: negligence, strict liability, and breach of warranty.
- Negligence: There are four elements a plaintiff must prove in order to hold a manufacturer or seller liable for a defective product. The plaintiff must show that the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff, the defendant breached the duty, the plaintiff was harmed, and the plaintiff’s harm was caused by the defendant. Rosenblatt v. Exxon, 335 Md. 58, 76 (1994). Plaintiffs may assert three bases for liability: manufacturing defect, design defect, and failure to warn.
- Strict Liability: To succeed in an action for strict liability a plaintiff is not required to prove negligence. Under strict liability, “placing a defective product on the market which is unreasonably dangerous to a user or consumer is itself a negligent act sufficient to impose liability on the seller.” Phipps v. General Motor Corp., 278 Md. 337, 351 (1976). Plaintiffs may assert the same three bases for liability as negligence: manufacturing defect, design defect, and failure to warn.
- Breach of Warranty: The final theory under which a plaintiff can recover damages for injuries received from a defective product is breach of warranty. A plaintiff may allege a breach of an express warranty, breach of an implied warranty, or breach of the warranty for fitness for a particular purpose.
A plaintiff can allege any or all of these theories when bringing a claim for damages from a defective product.
As technology advances so do the types of products available on the market. While we can hope to one day have a defect free hoverboard like the one Marty McFly used in Back To The Future II, it is more likely that companies will still be dealing with liability for defective products as long as products are being made.