Hoverboard Suits Against Amazon Follow House Fires

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By Martina Barash

A toddler’s recent death in a Pennsylvania house fire blamed on a hoverboard battery has brought new attention to the devices and related product liability litigation. Retailer Amazon.com has become a frequently named defendant in those cases.

A number of personal injury suits are active, including one alleging members of another family, this one in Tennessee, sustained serious injuries in a narrow escape from their burning house ( Fox v. Amazon.com, Inc. , M.D. Tenn., No. 3:16-cv-03013, amended complaint filed 1/3/17 ). A trial is slated for July 2018.

Meanwhile, a consumer class action, Brown v. Swagway, LLC, 2017 BL 70465, N.D. Ind., No. 15-588, survived a dismissal request by maker Swagway LLC in a March 7 ruling.

The stakes can run high in these cases. The Fox v. Amazon complaint demands $30 million in compensatory damages as well as treble damages under a consumer-protection law and punitive damages.

The product in that case, marketed as the “Smart Balance Wheel,” is the subject of at least two other suits over fires, according to a Bloomberg Law docket search.

And Amazon.com, the online retailer that allegedly sold many of the self-balancing scooters, is emerging as a major target of such lawsuits. That’s because many makers are based in China and are hard to sue in U.S. courts.

Marketing Claims

The Fox complaint alleges Amazon misrepresented the batteries in its marketing as being made by “leading electronic makers” when they weren’t.

The family also says the retailer knew about numerous other fires tied to the Smart Balance Wheel scooter and should have warned consumers about the product’s dangers.

An attorney for Amazon.com couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

Hoverboards were popular gifts for the 2015 holiday season. But problems with lithium-ion batteries led eight makers and two retailers to recall more than 500,000 of them in July 2016. The action followed 99 sparking, smoking, fire and explosion incidents, according to the CPSC.

The recent incident involving the toddler has prompted the consumer protection agency to open a new investigation.

The Tennessee incident involved a family of six, according to the Fox complaint. Two teenagers were trapped inside after a just-used hoverboard allegedly caught fire. They called and texted their parents, who returned home from separate errands.

Brian Fox, the teens’ father, returned first. He tried to get inside the house but couldn’t.

Brian Fox saw and encouraged the teenagers’ strenuous efforts to break second-floor windows to get out, and broke the fall of at least one of them, according to the complaint. The three members of the family allegedly sustained cuts and injuries from falls.

The mother and two other children witnessed the events. The family lost its home and its belongings, the complaint said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Martina Barash in Washington at MBarash@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Patrick at spatrick@bna.com

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