Is there any example of a hot consumer product becoming toxic quite as quickly as the hoverboard? The Oregonian reported this week that retailing giant Amazon “recently pulled the item from its marketplaces” barely three months after hoverboards were the ‘must-have’ gift of the holiday season.
The reason for the change of heart is well-known. As dangerous products go it is hard to imagine any recent consumer item whose fortunes have reversed quite so quickly. Over the course of 2015 the gyroscope-powered toys went from a rare curiosity to a pop-culture phenomenon. Then, just as sales were hitting stratospheric heights, reports – and dramatic videos – emerged of the devices spontaneously bursting into flames (this, as The Oregonian notes, is in addition to “other risks to the public as evidenced from plenty of video compilations prominently featuring people falling off of them.”).
Now, only weeks later, “the obscenely popular holiday gadget was silently and unceremoniously dropped from all Amazon’s electronics pages… the U.S. government recently declared the gadgets an “imminent hazard” and… locally, the University of Oregon banned hoverboards in January, going so far as to supply students with fireproof storage for any of the errant gadgets.”
The actions by Amazon and other retailers are welcome, but they also raise serious legal questions for retailers, manufacturers and the government. Considering how quickly it emerged that hoverboards are prone to burst into flames – in some cases when they are just sitting idle and are not even turned on – what sort of due diligence did manufacturers and retailers really conduct? It is difficult to believe that someone was not aware of this problem before these devices began turning up in stores. That, in turn, raises legal questions about responsibility for the sale and marketing of dangerous products.
As a Portland lawyer focusing on defective products I urge the Consumer Product Safety Commission and our own health and safety authorities here in Oregon to look into these questions more closely. It is good to know that hoverboards are becoming more difficult to buy – but buying them is still possible. Why the CPSC has not simply banned their sale at this point is a question that needs to be addressed, even as the manufacturers are held accountable for pushing such a dangerous product on an unsuspecting public.
The Oregonian: Amazon isn’t selling hoverboards anymore