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What are the hoverboard laws in Florida? Things to know about hoverboards

Hoverboards have become very popular, especially among young people.  Generically known as “self-balancing scooters”, hoverboards are now widely available to the public as something of a sideways rolling skateboard. On this article we will talk about what are the hoverboard laws in Florida, but before that, let’s understand what is a hoverbaord

What is a hoverboard

These hoverboards are composed of two motorized wheels, which are connected to a pair of footpads that articulate with pressure. The hoverboard can be controlled by  leaning forward or backward and the direction can be changed by twisting the footpads.

The present incarnation of hoverboards came into being in 2013.  Most of these were manufactured in China. Most people recall that there was a problem with hoverboards catching on fire from defective batteries. Many of these were the subject of product recalls by 8 different manufacturers.

There have been deaths associated with hoverboards from battery fires. In March 2017 a hoverboard caught fire in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, killing a 3-year-old girl and her 10 year-old sister. This brought calls for recalls of the devices. Many retailers removed them from their shelves.

Despite being called hoverboards, these products do not hover. They gained interest in particular from exposure in the “Back To The Future” films starring Michael J. Fox. What makes these devices work is that they contain an internal gyroscope.

What Makes These Hoverboards Dangerous?

Aside from the risk of fire from defective lithium batteries, hoverboards are inherently dangerous because the rider is exposed to anything they strike. There is no structure to protect a rider from a collision with a fixed or moving object like a car or building.  They also cannot anticipate potholes, drops and bumps.

The user must, at a minimum, take the following precautions:

  • Always wear a helmet.  It is the most effective way to prevent or minimize head trauma in the event of a crash or fall
  • Wear body protection, including sleeves, long pants and knee and elbow guards
  • Never operate a hoverboard in wet or inclement weather
  • Stay away from any traffic, whether automotive, motorcycle, bicycle or pedestrian
  • Understand how the device works before taking it out for a ride.  Practice so you know what the response will be to input from your feet

What are the hoverboard laws in Florida?

The law in Florida on hoverboards depends on who has been injured and how.

Product Liability:

If the user is injured because of a battery fire or explosion, or because of a malfunction in the hoverboard, the manufacturer and seller may be liable based on product liability. Product liability law says that manufacturers and sellers of products have a responsibility not to sell defective or unreasonably dangerous products.

There are two types of product defects:

  • Design defect: where the product was designed improperly which caused the injury (including a failure to design or add a reasonable warning when the danger cannot be designed out of the product); and,
  • Manufacturing defect: where a product becomes unreasonably dangerous or hazardous because of a mistake in the manufacturing, like failing to properly connect something, using inferior materials that break, or failing to include a part that results in an injury.

If the product could reasonable have been designed in such a way as to prevent the harm, it may be considered defectively designed. A classic example of a design defect is the Ford Pinto, which in the 1970s was a small economy car that was designed in a way that on rear impact a sharp metal piece in the fuel filler area had a tendency to pierce the fuel tank, causing explosions and fuel-fed fires.

Ford decided not to change the design even when they knew of the hazards because they estimated that it would cost more to recall and repair the design than to pay for the lawsuits from burned and killed passengers.

Hoverboards may or may not be defectively designed. One aspect of defective design is also defective warning. If the manufacturer should provide reasonable warnings or instructions for use, and they fail to do so, the product might be deemed a defective and unreasonably unsafe product.

A manufacturing defect might be if the manufacturer of a hoverboard does not have a quality control department so that if workers on the assembly line forget to insert screws that hold the wheels onto the board, the wheels could fly off while someone is using it. That would be a manufacturing defect.

Under Florida law, a retailer who sells a defective product may also be liable for the harm caused because they placed it into the stream of commerce. This is particularly important today, where many products are manufactured in China by fly-by-night factories that are beyond the legal control of someone in the United States. Since the seller has control over what is sold, and they can determine whether the manufacturer is selling a safe product (or decide that they should not sell the product), they are on the hook for defective products.

Being the largest retailer in America, Amazon has been the subject of defective hoverboard lawsuits. A recent appeals court ruling held that Amazon must defend itself in cases where they sold Chines-manufactured hoverboards. Love Jr. vs. Weeco et al., Amazon.com Inc. (“[W]e conclude that Plaintiff has alleged enough facts to state plausibly that Amazon had actual or constructive knowledge that the Hoverboard posed a risk of fire at the time of Plaintiff’s purchase.”).

What are the hoverboard laws in Florida? – Operator Liability:

Let’s say the hoverboard rider is going down the sidewalk and runs into someone, causing them injuries.  This may result in a case against the operator just as you might bring a case against the driver of a car that hits someone.

The practical issues are:

  • Hoverboards are not motor vehicle under the definitions used by insurance companies or the state
  • They are not regulated like cars
  • They are usually not insured under an auto policy
  • Their use may or may not be insured by a rider’s homeowner’s policy

The real question is whether you have a case if you or a loved one is injured or killed by a hoverboard. Only through consulting with a skilled personal injury lawyer can you decide that. But there are some general ideas to keep in mind when looking to bring a case arising out of a hoverboard mishap.

First, what is the mechanism of the injury? Did the operator make a mistake? Was the operator at fault because of improper training, instructions or warning? Was there something about the hoverboard that caused the crash or incident? Is the hoverboard in someone’s custody to allow it to be inspected and tested? How long ago did the incident occur (in Florida there is a 4 year statute of limitations for personal injury cases and two years for wrongful death)? Was the product purchased new, and if so, by what retailer?

These are just a few of the questions that need to be answered to determine whether there is acclaim for injuries from a hoverboard accident.

The hoverboard laws in Florida are the same laws that govern any product. If the product is defective and unreasonably dangerous, there may be a product liability case. If the operator was negligent and injured someone, they may be responsible for the injuries cause to others.

When in doubt, consult an experienced personal injury trial lawyer.

*Feature image from alza.co.uk

Article by:

John Leighton

A nationally-recognized trial lawyer who handles catastrophic injury and death cases. He manages Leighton Law, P.A. trial lawyers, with offices in Miami and Orlando, Florida. He is President of The National Crime Victim Bar Association, author of the 2-volume textbook,Litigating Premises Security Cases, and past Chairman of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America’s Motor Vehicle, Highway & Premises Liability Section. Having won some of the largest verdicts in Florida history, Mr. Leighton is listed inThe Best Lawyers in America (14 years), “Top Lawyers” in the South Florida Legal Guide (15 years), Top 100 Florida SuperLawyer™ and Florida SuperLawyers (14 years), “Orlando Legal Elite” by Orlando Style magazine, and FloridaTrend magazine “Florida Legal Elite

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