I’ve found that sometimes hard questions are worth asking — and thinking about. So here it is: What if an accident caused by your battery killed two girls? It would be an unthinkable tragedy for everyone involved, of course. Lives lost, families broken, jobs lost, suppliers and distributors all along the supply chain shouldering blame — as they should. The associated financial responsibility and loss of client and consumer goodwill may prove too much for all but the largest companies to survive.
Thing is, this happened. The parents of two girls killed in a Pennsylvania house fire in April have sued a hoverboard manufacturer and Walmart, saying a defective hoverboard charging in a bedroom sparked the blaze that trapped the girls in a second floor bedroom.
The suit claims that the Jetson Rogue hoverboard purchased at Walmart as a Christmas gift in 2018 had a “defective and unreasonably dangerous design” and the manufacturer, Jetson Electric Bikes, knew or should have known, that it could short-circuit and cause fires while charging.
The federal lawsuit claims the defendants “knowingly, purposely and consciously concealed their knowledge of these serious dangers,” and the plaintiffs are seeking unspecified damages.
As we head from fall into the holidays, with history as an indicator, this very thing could happen again this year. Since they first came out, there were reports that hoverboards were dangerous and there have been similar instances of fire. And yet companies sourced and sold them, and consumers bought. That’s how it works.
But this is exactly where smarter heads need to prevail. With the category so popular, the emphasis on responsibly sourcing electronics is ratcheted up — as it should be. That includes the batteries, too, as I’m sure you’d agree. If you want to put that smarter head to use, not only to mitigate risk for your organization, but for your end users as well, start with the basics. Do you know where your batteries are manufactured? Has margin pressure perhaps led you to source, purchase, or recommend a battery without the confidence of a brand name and testing documentation? Poor quality batteries that can leak, overheat, or even explode, are nothing more than a tragic accident waiting to happen. The same goes for knock-off chargers. It’s imperative that promo products pros do the requisite due diligence to make sure batteries and chargers sourced and procured for clients are safe. Your clients should not only be willing to pay more for that, but they should also thank you for taking the initiative to protect their brand from damage they might not recover from.
In the Pennsylvania hoverboard lawsuit, Tom Kline, a Philadelphia attorney representing the parents, said an independent probe concluded that the hoverboard was responsible for the tragedy. “We conducted a thorough cause-and-origin investigation with multiple experts in which we carefully evaluated the evidence not only from the fire scene itself but also did an inspection of the hoverboard,” Kline told the Morning Call. “We are convinced based on our careful and thorough investigation that the hoverboard is responsible,” he added. Kline said the suit was important, because it would not only hold the manufacturer and retailer responsible but also help prevent other incidents from happening. Those parents can’t bring their daughters back, but they hope they can prevent other tragedies like this from happening again.
Regarding this lawsuit, Walmart issued a statement saying in part, “Our thoughts go out to the Kaufman family for their loss. We expect our suppliers to provide safe, quality products that meet all applicable laws and regulations (emphasis mine). We will respond with the Court as appropriate after we are served with the complaint.” A quick check of the Jetson website shows the Rogue hoverboard still offered for sale at $170 but is currently listed as “Out Of Stock.” Walmart certainly has the financial deep pockets to accept whatever responsibility the courts ultimately assess here should they be found at fault, and Jetson, founded in 2012, likely does as well. But, what about your organization? Do your clients, like Walmart, expect their suppliers to provide safe, quality products that meet all applicable laws and regulations? I’m guessing so. Are you doing your due diligence on that front — with all products you source/sell? Moreover, if your company were found to be financially responsible for a portion of this tragedy, would you and your organization be able to manage your share? Would you sleep less soundly at night knowing you were responsible in part for a tragic occurrence?
Hopefully these are hard questions that can help lead you to smart answers.
Moving on, and speaking of promotional products that are still on the market that shouldn’t be, Accompany USA has recalled ceramic mugs with cork bottoms due to the potential of a burn hazard. The CPSC announced last week the recall of about 25,000 mugs sold from February through June of this year. While no injuries have been reported, the mugs can shatter when hot water is poured into them. A quick check of two importers, Logomark and Lanco, where the mugs had been available, show them no longer on those websites. However, that’s not the case with adMart, which as of this writing, still offers the recalled mugs as product wa-3002. Recalls really only work when sellers are vigilant enough to check for them, and while coffee mugs may not be as dangerous an item as an overheated recharging hoverboard, the issue of liability is similar. adMart continuing to sell a recalled item would make it hard for the company to make a “best efforts” defense claim should a lawsuit to recover damages from injury caused by that very item be filed.
How about you? Do you have the confidence that you are making your “best efforts” to avoid injury to end-users on all the products you’re sourcing? If not, there’s no better time to start than right now.