LOOK OUT! Are hoverboards in your future?

LOOK OUT! Are hoverboards in your future?

One of the hottest selling Christmas presents in 2015 was the two-wheeled hoverboard. More accurately, they are a rechargeable self-balancing personal vehicle that can travel up to 12 hours and reach speeds of 12 mph. Besides being a form of leading edge fun with a great “wow” factor, hoverboards present an entirely new set of hazards not the least of which is liability. So what should you know about these futuristic wheels

How they work. Unlike Marty McFly’s futuristic skateboard, today’s hoverboard is a small version of the Segue, the ingenious invention of Dean Kamen of New Hampshire. Weighing about 25 pounds and selling for about $600 to $900, the hoverboard is powered by lithium ion batteries that can be recharged in as little as 2-3 hours. To initiate movement, the rider simply tilts forward and leans right or left to turn. To stop, the rider simply tilts the surface toward their heels. The boards also come equipped with headlights to illuminate the path ahead.

Why some burn. Thus far, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has received reports of 22 hoverboards catching fire in 17 states and, in a few instances, causing other property to catch fire. The CPSC is moving quickly to establish science-based recommendations on the new technology and the industry is attempting to establish quality standards. From reading various articles, it appears there is no single reason that can cause a hoverboard battery or cable to burst into flames (e.g. over charging, overheating, short circuits, etc.). It may be, though, that these devices are not ready for prime time without some regulatory assurances.

Banned? Due to the safety issues posed by the latest application of lithium ion batteries, many major airlines now prohibit hoverboards on passenger flights. You may remember that overheating lithium ion batteries were the cause of grounding the Boeing 787 Dreamliner the 2006 recall of laptop computer batteries by Dell.

In addition, many college campuses have or are considering bans on hoverboards due their potential for fire. The last thing a college needs is a fire in a dorm caused by a device that is known to have issues.

As important is the use of safety equipment when operating a hoverboard. A helmet, bright clothing and gloves can be supplemented with knee and elbow pads. According to the Claims Journal, “One Houston-area hospital reported treating 14 hoverboard injuries between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Doctors at Memorial Hermann Sugar Land Hospital started keeping count after they started seeing patients who had hurt themselves, according to the Houston Chronicle.”

The other hazard is their quasi-vehicle status. The United Kingdom has banned the use of “self-balancing scooters” from public sidewalks and roads as there is no provision for licensing, taxation or insurance. One can presume that operators would adhere to the same laws as motor vehicles and bicycles but those requirements have yet to be debated and implemented.

From an Insurance perspective. A hoverboard is not an insurable motor vehicle covered by auto insurance. From a property insurance perspective, hoverboards would be considered a “motor vehicle” under the Home Owners insurance form (HO-2000 and 2011). “Motor vehicle” is defined as a self-propelled land or amphibious vehicle. It is not covered under the standard form. The exception for such unregistered vehicles is if it is used to service an insured’s residence or assist the handicapped. However, if your hoverboard were involved in causing an injury or damage to others on your property, there would be limited liability protection, but not if the incident occurred on the sidewalk or street. Bottom line: be cautious about buying a hoverboard and check with us about your liability coverage needs.

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