One of the hottest holiday presents this year may also be a gift to personal injury lawyers.
Hoverboards have been randomly bursting into flames. Riders have taken dangerous spills, some even ending up in the ER. The logical next step for some shaken hoverboard owners (after posting a video to social media) is a lawsuit.
There are already at least two known lawsuits in the works. A couple in Alabama is suing a local hoverboard retailer after one of the devices caused a fire in their home. The seller is a mall kiosk.
Earlier this month in New York, Michael Brown filed lawsuit after the board he bought for his kids allegedly caught on fire while charging. He's suing hoverboard maker Swagway as well as the Modell's sporting goods store where he purchased the device. Brown is seeking class action status for the case. Swagway says it will fight the suit. Modell's did not respond to a request for comment.
Anthony Johnson, a personal injury lawyer in Little Rock, Arkansas, says his firm Johnson Vines has received a few inquiries from potential hoverboard clients. They haven't filed any suits yet.
"I'd imagine that many more lawsuits are already in the works and even more will come down the line as the product continues to fail," said Johnson.
"Hoverboards" are actually motorized self-balancing scooters. Currently, the Consumer Product Safety Commission is investigating 22 reports of hoverboard fires. The agency is also independently testing the products in its lab, but has not yet issued warnings for any specific brands or models, though it did issue a broad warning for consumers. Airlines have banned the products because of the fire hazard.
Early reports indicate the fires are an issue across brands. Some happen while charging, others during use. All seem to be related to cheap lithium ion batteries.
Complicating things, most hoverboards are made in China by a hodgepodge of manufacturers. Johnson said that should not be an issue for most lawsuits.
"There are additional procedural hoops that you may have to deal with when your lawsuit involves companies in other countries," said Johnson. "However, most of these companies actively do business in the plaintiff's locale and have assets and distributors and other entities that are located within the U.S."
Owners could sue manufacturers directly, or even the retailers depending on state law. Not all states hold retailers liable for defective products they sell.
What can hoverboard owners realistically expect to get from these companies? A lot depends on the extent of the damage and injuries. At the very least, they should be able to get a refund or replacement, even without involving a lawyer. If they've been hurt, then the calculations can include things like lost wages and medical bills.
Hoverboard companies will likely fight back in court.
"The complaint alleges generally that Swagway hoverboards are defective but no claim of personal injury was made," said Swagway in a statement, referring to the Brown suit. "We also have not received a product return from the plaintiff. This is the only lawsuit of its kind of which we are aware. We intend to vigorously defend the lawsuit."
Though the majority of injuries associated with hoverboards have been falls and collisions, Johnson says those aren't as likely to merit a lawsuit. Not unless they're the direct result of a defect in the scooter and not just clumsy parents trying their kid's new toy.