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Hoverboards Under Investigation by U.S. Regulators

Thursday, December 31st, 2015

Unless you have been living under a rock, hoverboards are the craze of the holiday season and are far and away the most popular gift being unwrapped this Christmas. While the gadgets have been wildly popular among the young and not so young, they also have been the subject of a growing number of stories in the media regarding their safety.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (UCPSC) is currently investigating a least a dozen instances of hoverboards catching fire, destroying bedrooms and entire homes in certain instances. While the agency’s investigation is ongoing, CNET reports that all of these fires were likely a result of the lithium ion battery packs that power hoverboards. Lithium ion batteries contain a highly flammable liquid which can easily ignite if a defective battery short-circuits and pierces the thin sheet of plastic separating the positive and negative sides of the battery.

The fact that lithium ion batteries are volatile and present a fire hazard is not new news. These are the same types of batteries that power our cell phones, tablets, and laptops. In the 2000’s , stories of exploding cell phones and laptop fires dominated the headlines. Such incidents prompted computer maker Dell to recall millions of laptop lithium ion batteries after six of its laptops caught fire. More recently, Boeing had to ground its new 787 Dreamliner aircraft until it could develop a way to stop its lithium ion battery packs from overheating.

In response to these incidents, the UCPSC forced the consumer electronics industry to develop uniform safety standards for products that were powered by lithium ion batteries. As a result, more vigorous stress testing of lithium battery powered devices and implementation of additional safety measures, like emergency vents to prevent overheating, followed. As a result of those measures, laptops and cell phones have become relatively safe today.

Because they are are a brand new device, no such uniform safety standards exist for hoverboards. Most hoverboards are manufactured in hundreds of factories in China that use interchangeable components for many brands of hoverboards, making it difficult to source defective batteries or other components that may contribute to overheating of the battery. Because there is no uniform safety certification for these devices and vast array of companies competing to cash in on this latest technology fad, there is a huge incentive for manufacturers to cut corners on safety in order to increase profit margins .

While U.S. regulators are still investigating the causes of these fires, other countries and private companies have already taken action. The United Kingdom has virtually banned hoverboards in the country, making it illegal for them to be used on sidewalks and public streets. Several U.S. airlines and airports have banned the devices altogether. Depending on the results of the UCPSC investigation, several courses of action could be taken by U.S. regulators, ranging from adoption of stringent safety standards to an outright ban on the devices. It is important to remember that in addition to fire, hoverboards have been responsible for several emergency room visits over the holidays.

Pending action by regulators regarding hoverboards, consumers should consider refraining from purchasing them. However, for those that have already been injured from a hoverboard, consultation with a lawyer experienced in product liability law in your jurisdiction is highly recommended. The Law Offices of Brian D. Witzer, a law firm specializing in representing consumers injured by defective products is currently accepting hoverboard injury cases for review. If you or a loved one has been injured by a hoverboard, call the experienced attorneys at the Law Offices of Brian D. Witzer for a free consultation to learn about your legal rights.


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