Hoverboards have been in the news a lot in recent days. Unfortunately for hoverboard manufacturers, the added press has not been of the favorable variety. As we recently discussed, numerous outlets have been reporting that hoverboards are spontaneously catching fire. And, apparently, burning hoverboards are a bit of a problem. Not exactly the news hoverboard companies wanted to see just in time for the busiest retail season of the year.
It goes without saying that the potential to suddenly engulf in flames raises a number of product liability concerns for hoverboard manufacturers and others within the supply chain. With so many reports of allegedly defective products, what is a company to do when staring into the face of potential litigation? One option is to instruct hoverboard owners to trash the product. As reported by Yahoo!, online giant Amazon has decided to follow this path, instructing users in the United Kingdom to turn their boards over to a certified recycling center in exchange for a full refund. In addition, Amazon has pulled the vast majority of its hoverboards for sale in the United States. We are sure the Consumer Product Safety Commission is pleased.
Instructing users to discard a product in exchange for a full refund raises some interesting issues. The move is certainly noble and made with great expense to Amazon. However, despite the numerous news reports and instructions to discard the product, there will be many who continue to view hoverboards as a viable means of transportation. So what happens when those people (who either ignore the news or are completely unaware of it) become injured when their hoverboards catch fire? Amazon will undoubtedly argue that it warned the user not to use the hoverboard and that the user assumed the risk of being injured. Unfortunately, however, assumption of the risk may not be recognized as a valid defense to strict liability claims in some jurisdictions, leaving Amazon exposed despite its best efforts to protect itself.
The more pressing issue might be what are parents to do after telling their children that Santa needs to take their hoverboards back? We imagine the emotional distress the parents will feel when explaining that the elves made a product that might catch on fire is astronomical. We are uncertain how Amazon has prepared to handle that massive class action.