NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee family can press itslawsuit against online retailer Amazon over a hoverboard fire that destroyedtheir home, an appeals court has ruled, saying the company was aware ofcomplaints about the devices catching fire and exploding.
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ Friday ruling alsonoted that the Seattle-based company had even launched an investigation thatled to its ceasing all hoverboard sales worldwide.
But Amazon’s notice to consumers consisted of an emailsaying there had been “reports of safety issues,” with no mention offires and explosions.
In the complaint, Megan and Charles Fox say their son hadleft his hoverboard downstairs in their home when it caught fire in January2016. The fire trapped two of the children upstairs and they had to jump fromsecond floor windows to escape. The family’s home was destroyed along with allof their possessions. They are seeking more than $30 million in damages.
One legal question involves whether Amazon was the seller ofthe hoverboards or merely a pass-through between a third-party Chinese sellerand customers like the Foxes.
A separate, related case in the 3rd Circuit Court of Appealslast week found that under Pennsylvania product liability law, Amazon was theseller of a defective retractable dog leash that snapped and blinded a woman inone eye.
The Cincinnati-based 6th Circuit court’s ruling likewiserejected Amazon’s arguments that the term “seller” should be narrowlyconstrued, finding that under the Tennessee Products Liability Act, a seller“means any individual regularly engaged in exercising sufficient controlover a product in connection with its sale.” However, the court found thatin the specific case at hand, the Foxes had not proven that Amazon acted as aseller of the hoverboard they purchased.
The court let the case go forward on a different claim. Itfound that Amazon had assumed a duty to warn the Foxes of the dangers posed bythe hoverboards when it sent them an email. It will be up to the lower court todecide whether Amazon’s warning was negligent.
According to court documents, Amazon became aware ofcomplaints about hoverboards sold through its marketplace in November 2015.
On November 30, 2015, for example, a customer sent an emailto Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos stating that a hoverboard had burst into flames with“fireworks-like explosions” while his daughter was riding it. The emailsaid the fire damaged the customer’s home and narrowly avoided injuring threeof his children.
Damon Jones, the leader of Amazon’s products safety team,became concerned enough to remove his own hoverboard from his home, accordingto court records. And on Dec. 11, 2015, Amazon ceased all hoverboard salesworldwide.
The next day Amazon sent an email to customers who hadalready 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 rememberreceiving the email, but she would have gotten rid of the hoverboard had sheknown there was a possibility it could explode.
The case now goes back to the federal district court inNashville.