SAN FRANCISCO – A federal judge sided with Amazon in a dispute with two customers who alleged a hoverboard led to a fire that destroyed their house and killed their dogs.
In an opinion issued March 19, Judge Jon Tigar of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California granted Amazon’s motion for summary judgment against David and Kim Carpenter, who sued the online retailer in connection with a hoverboard they bought as a Christmas present for their daughter in November 2015.
According to Tigar, the hoverboard came from Paradise 00, a third-party seller in China. The fire at the Carpenters’ Santa Rosa home Jan. 19, 2016, happened while the family was away. Along with Kim Agrella, trustee of the Carpenter Family Trust, which owned the home, the family sued to hold Amazon liable in June 2017, alleging fraudulent concealment, strict liability based on manufacturing and design defects and a failure to warn, negligence, breach of implied warranty and private nuisance.
Allied Property and Casualty Insurance Co. intervened as a plaintiff, seeking judgment for the $407,713 it paid to cover the damages. State Farm General Insurance Co. did the same for the $177,887 it paid on the Carpenters’ policy. After Tigar agreed to dismiss the private nuisance claim, Amazon moved for summary judgment on the remaining six claims, as well as those of the insurance companies.
The plaintiffs didn’t oppose summary judgment on the implied warranty claim. On the remaining allegations, Amazon said either state law or the federal Communications Decency Act preclude liability.
Tigar said Amazon sent an email to people who bought hoverboards on Dec. 12, 2015, which the Carpenters said established the company’s duty. But Tigar noted they bought the product on Nov. 9, 2015, and did not allege they made that purchase after relying on Amazon statements later shown to be misrepresentations or concealments about the product’s safety.
Amazon also argued the Carpenters didn’t sufficiently connect its role as a distributor to being liable for a faulty product. Tigar agreed, saying that even if Amazon received a direct financial benefit from the sale and that it had a substantial ability to influence its manufacturing or distribution, the complaint didn’t adequately allege Amazon was integral to Paradise 00 or bringing the hoverboard to the American market.
The Carpenters, Tigar wrote, “point to no evidence that Amazon ‘played a dominant role in creating the market’ for hoverboards, took steps to assist hoverboard manufacturers in marketing hoverboards or engaged in any other activities that led to the creation of the initial hoverboard market. … Amazon was not the only seller of hoverboards in the United States at the relevant time.”
Tigar said the Carpenters’ negligence claim only generally asserts Amazon isn’t precluded from liability under California law.
“But as Amazon points out, plaintiffs do not explain how the marketing enterprise theory applies to negligence claims, or if it applies at all,” Tigar wrote.
Even if that theory did extend to negligence, he continued, the claim failed on the same grounds as the rest of the complaint.
Ultimately, Tigar found, the Carpenters hadn’t “satisfied their burden of showing a triable issue of fact as to an essential element of their negligence claim, and Amazon is entitled to summary judgment on this claim.”