By Susan Engstrom
The consumer’s complaint plausibly alleged that the online retailer had actual or constructive knowledge of the hoverboard’s potential fire hazard at the time of purchase.
An individual who was injured and whose home was destroyed in a fire allegedly caused by a defective hoverboard sold by Amazon.com could pursue negligence and negligent failure-to-warn claims against the company, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled in a decision designated as not for publication. The consumer alleged enough facts to state a plausible claim that Amazon had actual or constructive knowledge that the hoverboard posed a risk of fire. Accordingly, the lower court’s decision to the contrary was reversed, and the case was remanded for further proceedings (Love v. Amazon.com, Inc., May 16, 2019, per curiam).
The consumer had purchased the Chinese-manufactured hoverboard at issue through Amazon’s website in November 2015. It contained a lithium-ion battery, but neither its packaging nor Amazon provided any warnings about potential fire hazards associated with the product. In February 2016, the hoverboard started a fire in the consumer’s home. As a result, the home was destroyed and the consumer was severely injured.
The consumer filed suit against several companies, including Amazon, asserting causes of action for negligence and negligent failure to warn, among others. According to his complaint, Amazon was negligent for: (1) continuing to advertise and sell Chinese-manufactured hoverboards despite knowing that the boards likely would cause fires; and (2) failing to warn him of the known safety risks associated with the product. The district court granted Amazon’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, and this appeal followed.
Failure to warn. Georgia case law defines “negligence” as engaging in conduct that is “unreasonable in light of the recognizable risk of harm.” A seller of a product may be liable under a negligent failure-to-warn theory “if, at the time of the sale, it had actual or constructive knowledge that its product created a danger for the consumer.”
Here, accepting as true the consumer’s factual allegations and construing them in his favor, the appellate panel determined that he had alleged sufficient facts from which it could be inferred that Amazon had at least constructive knowledge of the potential risk of fire associated with the hoverboard. For example, the consumer’s complaint alleged that several fires had been caused by “lithium-ion battery powered hoverboards manufactured in China,” including those of the same model as the consumer’s hoverboard. He also asserted that when he purchased the hoverboard from Amazon, the company already had received written notices of four specific fires caused by hoverboards sold by Amazon. In addition, the consumer maintained that thousands of hoverboards had been seized by U.S. Customs authorities because of their “potentially explosive lithium batteries.”
The court rejected Amazon’s contention that the consumer provided too little detail about the four pre-sale written notices to satisfy the minimum pleading standard. Given his allegations of a defect common to all Chinese-manufactured hoverboards containing lithium-ion batteries, the court could not find that his allegations regarding the notices were insufficient as a matter of law to establish Amazon’s actual or constructive knowledge. Amazon’s assertion that the dates of the notices were too close in time to the consumer’s purchase to trigger its duty to warn also was rejected, as the notices’ “time-insufficiency” was not so obvious that it could be decided on this motion to dismiss.
Accordingly, at this stage of the litigation, the court concluded that the consumer alleged enough facts to state plausibly that Amazon had actual or constructive knowledge that the hoverboard posed a risk of fire at the time he purchased it. As such, the lower court’s ruling was reversed, and the matter was remanded for further consideration.
The case is No. 18-14823.
Attorneys: Darren W. Penn (Penn Law, LLC) for Irvin R. Love, Jr. Willie Chester Ellis, Jr. (Hawkins Parnell & Young, LLP) for Amazon.com, Inc.
Companies: Amazon.com, Inc.
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