Amazon has settled a product liability lawsuit brought by a Tennessee family whose house was destroyed when a defective Chinese-made hoverboard and lithium-ion battery burst into flames.
Brian and Megan Fox of Nashville bought a $275 Fiturbo FI hoverboard from Amazon in November 2015 as a Christmas gift for their 14-year-old son. On Jan. 9, 2016, the son and his teen sister were home alone when they heard noises coming from the first floor. The siblings hid upstairs thinking there may be an intruder.
They didn’t realize until it was nearly too late that the noise was caused by a fire that stemmed from the hoverboard. Brian and Megan fox arrived home with their two younger children to find it enveloped in flames.
Knowing his children were trapped inside, Mr. Fox tried to rescue them, sustaining severe burn injuries in the process. He instead had to exit the house and direct his daughter to kick out her window and jump from the second story, promising her he would break her fall.
The boy initially tried exiting the house by going downstairs but burned his hand on the doorknob. He also had to kick out his window and jump from the second level.
Everyone managed to escape the inferno, but their $1 million house and their belongings were completely destroyed in the fire. Total damages amounted to about $2 million.
The Foxes sued Amazon later in 2016, alleging Amazon was liable for the defective hoverboard and the damages it caused. The company argued that it was just a conduit between the consumer and the Chinese manufacturers of the hoverboard, which it claimed were liable for the product.
A federal judge for the Middle District of Tennessee sided with Amazon and dismissed the lawsuit. The Fox family appealed their case to the 6th Circuit, which acknowledged that Amazon ordinarily would not be liable for the defective device except for an email the retailer sent to hoverboard purchasers alerting them to “safety issues” with hoverboards and other devices containing lithium-ion batteries.
According to The Legal Examiner, Amazon sent the email after complaints about some of the Chinese-made hoverboards sold on its website started piling up. The company investigated and became aware of at least 17 reports of hoverboard fires and explosions.
“Amazon never notified customers about the results of that investigation—it just sent the email out and then quietly stopped sales of those hoverboards,” the Legal Examiner reported. By notifying customers, Amazon knew there was a serious safety problem that its customers needed to know about, the court found.
The Circuit Court’s decision sent the case back to lower court and another trial was scheduled for November 2020. Amazon settled the case with the Foxes for an undisclosed amount.