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Hoverboards, swagboards or motorised self-balancing scooters. Everybody’s talking about them. Celebrities including Buzz Aldrin, Chris Brown and Mike Tyson have crowded social media with videos and photos of them using their hoverboards. Despite the Federal Government raising concerns about the product’s safety and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) issuing a safety warning in December 2015, hoverboards remained, unsurprisingly, a top-selling Christmas gift. But now, a house fire causing an estimated $500,000 damage and supposedly caused by a hoverboard battery has again attracted the Australian consumer watchdog’s attention. The ACCC yesterday announced it would formally investigate the popular toys. So, what does all this mean for you if you own a hoverboard?

What are the Dangers of Hoverboards?

Not all brands of hoverboards have been recalled, as of the hundreds of companies manufacturing hoverboards, only some failed to abide strictly by Australia’s safety standards. The products that have been recalled were found to incorporate poorly manufactured rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that may spontaneously combust, particularly during recharging. In Victoria, a non-compliant charger for a no-name hoverboard sparked the blaze mentioned above.

The ACCC also identified user injuries through falls as another danger inherent in the use of all products in this category, regardless of brand. Injuries users can sustain on a hoverboard include head or spinal injuries, sprains, fractures and concussion. The consumer watchdog encourages users of electrically compliant hoverboards to wear the appropriate safety equipment including helmets, wrist guards and kneepads. In NSW, riders can also only use their hoverboards on private property. Failing to observe this rule could result in a $319 fine for riding on a footpath, or $637 fine for riding on the road.

The media has reported a general ban on hoverboards in the UK, leaving many wondering why are these products still sold in Australia?

When Should a Product be Recalled on Safety Grounds?

Safety related recalls are primarily the manufacturer’s responsibility, although the Minister for Competition Policy and Consumer Affairs can order a mandatory recall if the product will or may cause an injury. Legally, a product has a safety defect if it isn’t what the community is generally entitled to expect regarding safety, which may involve a consideration of the following factors:

  • How the product has been marketed and for what purpose;
  • The use of any compliance symbol or mark; and
  • Instructions for, or warnings about, using the product.

Under Australia’s Consumer Law (ACL), the product liability provisions generally apply to a manufacturer supplying the good in trade or commerce. A manufacturer includes a company that makes a product or assembles the product’s components. Relevantly, as the hoverboards are reportedly largely imported from China, an importer who deals in products manufactured offshore is deemed a manufacturer under the ACL.

Affected consumers could seek compensation from a manufacturer who supplied a hoverboard with a safety defect if it caused them loss or damage. Under the ACL, loss and damage includes injuries to the person making the claim and damage to personal and real property.

Importantly, manufacturers and importers should be working towards promoting a culture of safety within their organisation. Again, in regrettable instances where hoverboards have caught alight, there has typically been a failure to comply with mandatory electrical safety standards. Suppliers or manufacturers concerned about contravening local safety laws should stop selling the product immediately. Amazon along with other retailers recalled particular models of hoverboards last December due to the safety risk they presented.

It’s almost impossible to monitor every hoverboard’s compliance with local electricity safety standards. Master Electricians Australia Chief Executive Malcolm Richards was quoted as saying that there are thousands of devices entering Australia making the issue difficult to police.

Has your Hoverboard Been Recalled?

Despite calls to consider a permanent ban on the product, the Federal Government has declined to intervene with a spokeswoman for Small Business Minister Kelly O’Dwyer saying electrical safety is a matter for individual states and territories.

The ACCC is, however, continuing to coordinate recalls of non-compliant products and has reminded consumers to check the Recalls Australia and Product Safety Australia website. At present, seven hoverboard models or non-compliant battery chargers have been recalled.

The consumer watchdog is further urging consumers to check any hoverboard is marked with the Australian regulatory compliance symbol or regulatory compliance mark – a tick surrounded by a triangle. This symbol signifies the supplier gained electrical safety approval for their device.

Can I Get a Refund?

Manufacturers and importers, according to Richards, all have a responsibility under the product safety laws referred to above to ensure the products they provide “won’t burst into flames and burn people’s homes down”.

But as a consumer, you also have under the ACL an additional automatic guarantee from the manufacturer, importer and/or retailer that the products you buy will be of acceptable quality. That is that the product works, is safe (within the bounds of what the community is generally entitled to expect), and does what you are led to expect that it will, for a reasonable amount of time after you buy it. You are entitled to a replacement or refund and compensation for any other reasonably foreseeable loss or damage if your hoverboard fails to deliver on this guarantee. You are also entitled to have the hoverboard repaired or replaced if it fails to be of acceptable quality and doesn’t amount to a major failure.

In the meantime, NSW’s Minister for Fair Trading, Victor Dominello, has advised that if your hoverboard has been the subject of a safety recall, stop using or charging the toy immediately and return it to the retailer or the manufacturer for a full refund.

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