Happy New Year! With the first post of the year, we are examining a 2015 holiday craze that may generate a host of product liability lawsuits in 2016: the “hoverboard.”
Despite the misnomer, the 2015-incarnation of a “hoverboard” does not actually hover, but rather propels the rider forward on parallel motorized wheels. For those of you that were not (un)lucky enough to unwrap your own holiday hoverboard, imagine a Segway without the handrail attachment.
Currently, hoverboards are banned in New York City as a mode of transportation because they cannot be registered at the Department of Motor Vehicles. See law. The ban stops riders from enjoying their hoverboards on public streets and roadways and exposes those that ignore the law to fines in amounts up to $200. See article. However, before the end of the year, New York officials sought to legalize hoverboards and to allow cities to create their own rules—such as requiring helmets or other safety precautions. See article. Despite the current ban in New York City and increasing restrictions concerning self-balancing scooters, hoverboards were one of the most popular holiday gifts of 2015. See article. Moreover, if the ban is lifted in New York City and elsewhere, the result would likely increase the number of hoverboard sales and riders on bustling urban streets across the United States–not to mention the lawsuits that may follow.
In addition to patent lawsuits alleging infringement on existing technologies and civil fines for violators of bans against riding hoverboards in public, it is likely that claims against manufacturers and retailers of hoverboards alleging personal injury, consumer fraud and design defect will materialize in 2016.
At least one class action complaint was already filed in federal court in the Northern District of Indiana before the New Year against a hoverboard manufacturer and the retailer of the product. The suit alleges breach of implied warranty, unfair and deceptive trade practices under state law and unjust enrichment and seeks both compensatory and punitive damages. The Complaint alleges that the hoverboard at issue is unsafe for its intended use because “it is defective and presents a material likelihood that it will self-combust, or short-circuit while charging, leading to fire and/or other damage.” Compl. at ¶ 20.
Further proof that lawsuits may not be far behind is the wave of consumer complaints already reported to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (“CPSC”) alleging personal injury as a result of certain hoverboards unexpectedly catching on fire. The Chairman of CPSC wrote in a statement just before the holidays “we know this is a popular product during this holiday season, and we are doing everything possible to determine if consumers are at risk.” See statement. CPSC recorded 29 emergency room visits and 11 reports of fires across 10 states. See article. A preliminary review suggests that fires are caused by lithium-ion batteries found in many of the devices, especially lower quality batteries used in copycat or generic models of the gadget.