The 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that a Tennessee family’s lawsuit claiming their home burned down because of a faulty hoverboard can move forward. The lawsuit, filed against online retail giant Amazon, claims the company knew there was a risk for explosion and fire because of complaints about the device, but continued to sell the item without warning.
The court noted that Amazon launched an investigation into reports of hoverboard fires and eventually stopped global sales of the item.
Despite its investigation, an email the company sent to consumers mentioned only “reports of safety issues” and did not specifically talk about explosion or fire risk.
The lawsuit, filed by Megan and Charles Fox, claims their son’s hoverboard caught fire in January 2016. The fire forced two of the Fox children to jump from the second-floor window to escape the blaze. The Fox home and all of their possessions were destroyed. The family is seeking $30 million in damages.
The lawsuit raised questions about Amazon’s role in its sales. Many believe the company is only a “pass through” between third-party sellers and customers, but others believe it should be considered a primary seller and responsible for the products it sells on its site.
3rd Circuit Court Names Amazon as Seller
In another lawsuit filed in the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals related to a defective dog leash, the court determined that Amazon was the seller under Pennsylvania’s product liability law.
The 6th Circuit Court ruling rejected Amazon’s argument that it is not a seller. The company argued that “seller” is a term that should be narrowly construed, but the court determined that “seller” means an individual who is “regularly engaged in exercising sufficient control over a product in connection with its sale.”
Despite defining the role of Amazon as a seller, the court determined in the Fox case that the plaintiffs had failed to prove that Amazon acted as the seller in their hoverboard purchase, but allowed the case to move forward on a different claim.
According to the court, Amazon had assumed a duty to warn the Foxes and other buyers of the risks associated with the hoverboards in the email sent to consumers. A lower court will determine if the company’s warning was negligent.
Amazon Knew of Fire Risk Associated with Hoverboards
According to documents submitted to the court, the company received complaints about the hoverboard fires as early as November 2015.
An email was submitted to the company on November 30th of that year claiming that his hoverboard had burst into flames while his daughter was riding it and caused “fireworks-like explosions.” According to the consumer, the fire damaged his home and just barely avoided injuring his children.
Within a couple of weeks, Damon Jones, leader of Amazon’s products safety team, got rid of his own hoverboard and by December 11th, the company had stopped all hoverboard sales. The email warning customers of danger was sent the next day to consumers who had already purchased hoverboards.
The email made no mention of fire and was intended to be “non-alarmist.” It included links to safety tips and to start a return of the product.
Megan Fox claims she did not receive the email and that had she known of the risk for explosion, she would have gotten rid of the family’s hoverboard.
The case is headed back to a Nashville federal district court.