I have been following a high profile consumer death incident in China involving a Motorola cell phone. Here is the gist of the story reported widely in China lately (in Chinese only). On, June 19, 2007, a welder named Xiao Jinpeng (肖金鹏) (“Xiao”) with a mining company out in Gansu Province suffered a fatal injury when his Motorola cell phone exploded while on the job. It turned out that the battery was the culprit. The battery of his phone exploded under high temperature, which broke Xiao’s ribs, and one of the broken ribs pierced his heart.
Soon after the incident, Motorola (China Division) sent its investigators and lawyers to figure out what exactly happened. A governmental report came out stating that this is a case of work place death caused by shoddy cell phone battery. Xiao’s family received 130,000 Yuan in compensation from his company, but according to the Law of the People's Republic of China on Protection of the Rights and Interests of the Consumers (“Consumer Rights Protection Law”) (Chinese) and the Product Quality Law of the P. R. China (“Product Quality Law”) (Chinese), Xiao’s family is also entitled to damages from the sell and manufacturer of the cell phone battery.
According to the Product Quality Law, a seller and manufacturer have comparative tort liability for injuries or death caused by products in question.
With respect to injury or damages to property caused by products with defects, the seller is personally liable when selling products with unknown manufacturers:
A seller shall be liable for a personal injury or damage to the other's property caused by a product's defect resulted from the fault of the seller.
A seller shall be liable for damage if he can not give the producer or the supplier of the defective product.
An injured person may seek compensation from both the seller and manufacturer:
If the defect of a product causes personal injury or damage to other's property, the injured or damaged person may claim compensation from the producer of the product or may also claim compensation from the seller of the product. If the compensation lies to the liability of the producer of the product but the seller of the product has made the compensation, the seller of the product has the right to seek the compensation from the producer of the product. If it lies to the liability of the seller of the product but the producer of the product has made the compensation, the producer of the product has the right to seek the compensation from the seller of the product.
If the defect of a product causes personal injury to the injured person, the injurer shall compensate for the medical expenses, the nursing fees during the period of treatment and income lost due to the miss of work; if it causes the disability of the injured person, the injurer shall pay the fees for self-aid tools, living allowance, compensation for the disability and the living expenses for the persons the injured person supports; and if it causes the death of the injured person, the injurer shall pay the funeral expenses, the pension for the family of the deceased and the living expenses necessary for the persons supported by the deceased before his death.
If the defect of a product causes damage to the property of the injured person, the injurer shall restore the damaged property to its original state or pay compensation according to the market price. If the injured person suffers other substantial damages therefrom, the injurer shall be liable therefor.
[note: the above statutory texts are extracted from the website of Lehman & Hu. For the full texts of the laws quoted here, go here]
Upon further investigation, Motorola has stated in the Chinese media that the battery involved in the case is not genuine Motorola batter; therefore, it should not bear liability for Xiao’s death. In that case, if true, Xiao’s family could only go after the seller of the cell phone, who could then trace the provider of the battery. At the same time, it is not beyond all reason that Xiao probably chose to purchase the shoddy battery when the original battery became unusable. In all possibilities, tracking down the persons liable for producing and selling these types of fake, low-quality battery will very difficult because of the lack of quality regulation enforcement and wide spread practices of the selling and buying of substandard products in China.