When many of us were kids, we’d slide down the street on an “old-fashioned” 4-wheeled skateboard, thinking we were cool and hip.
Today’s kids, who definitely don’t use the words “cool” and “hip,” have a new language when it comes to skateboarding, too—the hot board these days is an electric skateboard with 1 wheel in the center, as opposed to the non-motorized boards with 4 wheels. The common term for these is reflective of a popular brand—Onewheel.
Onewheel boards are designed and manufactured (and very popular) in California. They’ve been on roads, boardwalks and skate park grounds since 2015 and continue to soar in popularity.
Unfortunately, there have been some unintended consequences, including lawsuits.
Multiple California lawsuits allege that plaintiffs have been injured as a result of product defects in Onewheel skateboards.
What is a product liability lawsuit?
Product liability is the type of personal injury lawsuit that refers to defective items.
If you were injured by a commercially made product (which is almost anything you touch or use, 24 hours a day), you might be able to sue the manufacturer if the product was defective.
California also applies a strict liability rule. In a traditional personal injury lawsuit, a plaintiff (the injured person) must prove that the defendant was negligent in order to recover damages. Under California’s strict liability rule for product lawsuits, the plaintiff must only prove that the product was defective—it doesn’t necessarily have to be the result of negligence.
Types of product liability claims
There are 3 types of claims you can make for a defective product.
1. Design defect
This happens if a product is inherently dangerous because the design wasn't safe. Even if it's manufactured according to the exact design specifications, it remains a dangerous product when used correctly. The only way to correct the defect is to change the design and create the product differently.
2. Manufacturing defect
If a product is damaged, not assembled properly or otherwise comes through the manufacturing process incorrectly, it could result in a manufacturing defect.
3. Inadequate warnings
Even if the product is designed and manufactured exactly as expected, sometimes injuries happen because the labels or packaging didn't provide sufficient warning to the consumer about possible dangers or incorrect use.
Onewheel injury lawsuits
There have been several lawsuits against Onewheel that claim a product defect caused serious injuries or deaths to users.
San Diego wrongful death lawsuit:
A lawsuit was filed on June 11, 2021, against Future Motion, Inc. (manufacturer of Onewheel skateboards), claiming that the device abruptly lost power, which caused the board to nosedive mid-ride and resulted in a San Diego man’s death.
The accident happened in August 2020. The man was riding in his San Diego neighborhood when the board shut down and “violently and unexpectedly” slammed into the pavement, throwing the rider to the ground. He suffered severe head trauma with traumatic brain injury, hemorrhagic contusions and skull fractures. He remained in a coma at Scripps Memorial Hospital for several weeks before he died from his injuries.
The lawsuit claims the company was negligent in the design, manufacturing and marketing of the device in a way that makes it inherently dangerous.
The Onewheel gives the user a “pushback” sensation that is meant to warn that the device is close to its limits. However, the claim is that it can compromise the device’s ability to help a rider balance, leading to a shutoff and nosedive.
Pushback can be affected by the rider’s weight, stance, wind, tire pressure, battery level, incline, decline and speed. These factors make it hard to predict when the board will nosedive. When a nosedive happens, the rider is often thrown from the board headfirst.
The Onewheel website markets the device as being safe for users of all levels, but the lawsuit claims this is a misleading failure to warn because it’s not always safe for ordinary use. In fact, the website claims that “anyone” can ride a Onewheel because it has technology that helps the rider balance.
There are 2 other pending lawsuits against the manufacturer for accidents that both involve shutoff-related nosedives that resulted in the riders’ deaths.
Personal injury lawsuit:
In another lawsuit, a rider experienced a device shutoff and nosedive that resulted in a broken femur, dislocated shoulder and lacerations. He had 2 surgeries on his femur and spent 5 days in a hospital.
The future of Onewheel and similar device lawsuits
Lawsuits take time, and these, like the others, are still working their way through the California courts.
The plaintiffs will need to prove these elements of a California products liability claim in order to successfully recover damages:
- The defendant designed, manufactured, distributed or sold the product.
- The product was defective when it left the defendant's control.
- The plaintiff used the product in a reasonably foreseeable manner.
- The plaintiff suffered an injury (or death) as a direct result of the defect.
Reasonably foreseeable use
A manufacturer might offer the defense that the plaintiff’s use of a product was unforeseeable or unreasonable.
You don’t have to use the product in a way that follows its instructions exactly in order for it to be reasonable.
California law requires a manufacturer to anticipate how a consumer might use a product—even if the consumer's doing it wrong.
Of course, not every misuse of a product is foreseeable. If the user was riding a Onewheel in a way that is typical among users or the company could reasonably expect them to, then the manufacturer would have a hard time defending against liability for an accident.
However, if the evidence shows that the user altered the Onewheel device somehow (made changes to the motor or mechanical functioning or disabled a safety feature, for instance), then the product would not be defective if the defense can show that it was the user’s modifications that created the unsafe condition.
Were you injured using a Onewheel or similar skateboard?
If you were injured because of a Onewheel accident (or a similar type of device), there might be help available if the product was defective.
It’s important to keep in mind that there are risks associated with these types of skateboards (or any skateboard), and accidents happen. If it’s truly an accident (for example, you lost your balance or collided with a stationary object), then you likely need to accept your injury, heal and consider what you would do differently next time.
But if you believe that the product was defective and the defect caused your injury, there are things you can do to recover compensation that would cover your associated costs.
3 Tips for pursuing a product liability claim
- Preserve the evidence. Don’t try to fix the product; keep it in exactly the condition it was in when you were injured.
- Take photos of the damage. You can’t capture what already happened, but you can show the aftermath. If a piece of the device was broken, be sure to photograph it from multiple angles to show the extent of the defect.
- Be specific with your doctor. When you visit a doctor or hospital to get treatment for your injuries, it’s important to tell them how the accident happened so it’s noted in your medical records. Doctors are busy, and they might not want to take the time to write down a detailed account of the entire event, but they can document that you suffered a head injury (for instance) because you were thrown from your skateboard. These notes will be important when you make a claim.