NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A Tennessee family can press its lawsuit against online retailer Amazon over a hoverboard fire that destroyed their home, an appeals court has ruled, saying the company was aware of complaints about the devices catching fire and exploding.
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ Friday ruling also noted that the Seattle-based company had even launched an investigation that led to its ceasing all hoverboard sales worldwide.
But Amazon’s notice to consumers consisted of an email saying there had been “reports of safety issues,” with no mention of fires and explosions.
In the complaint, Megan and Charles Fox say their son had left his hoverboard downstairs in their home when it caught fire in January 2016. The fire trapped two of the children upstairs and they had to jump from second floor windows to escape. The family’s home was destroyed along with all of their possessions. They are seeking more than $30 million in damages.
One legal question involves whether Amazon was the seller of the hoverboards or merely a pass-through between a third-party Chinese seller and customers like the Foxes.
A separate, related case in the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals last week found that under Pennsylvania product liability law, Amazon was the seller of a defective retractable dog leash that snapped and blinded a woman in one eye.
The Cincinnati-based 6th Circuit court’s ruling likewise rejected Amazon’s arguments that the term “seller” should be narrowly construed, finding that under the Tennessee Products Liability Act, a seller “means any individual regularly engaged in exercising sufficient control over a product in connection with its sale.” However, the court found that in the specific case at hand, the Foxes had not proven that Amazon acted as a seller of the hoverboard they purchased.
The court let the case go forward on a different claim. It found that Amazon had assumed a duty to warn the Foxes of the dangers posed by the hoverboards when it sent them an email. It will be up to the lower court to decide whether Amazon’s warning was negligent.
According to court documents, Amazon became aware of complaints about hoverboards sold through its marketplace in November 2015.
On November 30, 2015, for example, a customer sent an email to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos stating that a hoverboard had burst into flames with “fireworks-like explosions” while his daughter was riding it. The email said the fire damaged the customer’s home and narrowly avoided injuring three of his children.
Damon Jones, the leader of Amazon’s products safety team, became concerned enough to remove his own hoverboard from his home, according to court records. And on Dec. 11, 2015, Amazon ceased all hoverboard sales worldwide.
The next day Amazon sent an email to customers who had already purchased hoverboards that was intended to be “non-alarmist.” The email mentioned “reports of safety issues” with a link to “information and safety tips” and another link to initiate a return.
Megan Fox said in court documents she does not remember receiving the email, but she would have gotten rid of the hoverboard had she known there was a possibility it could explode.
The case now goes back to the federal district court in Nashville.