(Topic ID: 277307)

Liability of selling mods for pinball

By pinball_mutha

1 year ago


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  • Latest reply 1 year ago by pinball_mutha
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    #1 1 year ago

    Hi everyone, so I have some ideas for mods that I would like to build and sell that have my own designed electronics in them.

    So here's my question, I see a lot of people here on Pinside selling custom mods with lights and other electronics in them, how do you cover yourself if anything happens, like a fire? Do you carry liability insurance or have an LLC to cover yourself?

    I have also seen mods that use separate power supplies that need to be turned off when the game is turned off, and it's left to the user to make sure they turn it off. What if they don't turn it off with the game and it catches on fire?

    Thanks for any advice!

    #2 1 year ago

    This should be an interesting conversation, I'm looking forward to the answers from modders that sell their products to the public.
    I have seen plenty of paperwork with "do this at your own risk" but I wonder how that would actually hold up in court if someone proved negligence on the electrical design that caused a fire.
    -Mike

    #3 1 year ago

    I would imagine that mist mods so aren't being tested for compliance for UL, CE, FCC, etc. I'm not an expert in this realm, but something to look into.

    #4 1 year ago

    Most mod sellers usually sell with the verbiage and (hopefully) the understanding that these parts aren’t “official” and it’s an at your own risk kind of thing. Of course unless you’re buying the official stuff from Stern.

    #5 1 year ago

    Interesting topic.

    I've gotten calls from people or their techs wondering what they could have damaged.

    I don't know. I don't know the mod. I don't know what they did. And if a connector fits, doesn't mean it goes there.

    I'd seen brand new pinball machines with no games played on them yet. Severely damaged. Your warranty doesn't cover this.

    LTG : )

    #6 1 year ago

    Let’s say a mod does burn down your house.

    First off, you have insurance to cover you, your own home owners insurance.

    Let’s say that doesn’t cover everything, or there is more harm you want to allege, like bodily injury. So now you have a negligence claim against the mod designer. Is it worth it to file suit? You will likely have to sue them in their own home state of residence, not the state in which you live. You’ll spend years arguing over fault and damages. And then you may . . . may . . . get a judgment that you now have to collect. If the judgment is for any appreciable amount, will the mod maker even have money to pay? Are you going to go after his or her house, garnish his or her wages? This isn’t like suing Sony after all.

    My guess is a lot of mod makers just don’t see it as an appreciable risk. But if you really want to eliminate the risk, then probably the best thing is to set up an LLC and get general liability insurance.

    #7 1 year ago

    I'm not even sure what type of lawyer to ask these types of questions.

    So is just putting verbiage in the instructions enough to protect yourself? That the user takes responsibility for installing and if it has external power that they are also responsible for turning it off.

    Heck, what if a component you bought off the shelf that is use in your mod caused a fire?

    How do mod sellers protect themselves when shipping to other countries that have different laws?

    Any lawyers on Pinside that would know?

    #8 1 year ago
    Quoted from Nokoro:

    Let’s say a mod does burn down your house.
    First off, you have insurance to cover you, your own home owners insurance.
    Let’s say that doesn’t cover everything, or there is more harm you want to allege, like bodily injury. So now you have a negligence claim against the mod designer. Is it worth it to file suit? You will likely have to sue them in their own home state of residence, not the state in which you live. You’ll spend years arguing over fault and damages. And then you may . . . may . . . get a judgment that you now have to collect. If the judgment is for any appreciable amount, will the mod maker even have money to pay? Are you going to go after his or her house, garnish his or her wages? This isn’t like suing Sony after all.
    My guess is a lot of mod makers just don’t see it as an appreciable risk. But if you really want to eliminate the risk, then probably the best thing is to set up an LLC and get general liability insurance.

    I will note that despite what I said, some people are just irrational and will try to sue for anything. So, if it were me, I would be conservative and get insurance. At least they will pay for your legal defense if someone does try to sue.

    #9 1 year ago
    Quoted from Nokoro:

    My guess is a lot of mod makers just don’t see it as an appreciable risk. But if you really want to eliminate the risk, then probably the best thing is to set up an LLC and get general liability insurance.

    My guess would be most mod makers have never even thought of this scenario.

    #10 1 year ago
    Quoted from pinball_mutha:

    I'm not even sure what type of lawyer to ask these types of questions.
    So is just putting verbiage in the instructions enough to protect yourself? That the user takes responsibility for installing and if it has external power that they are also responsible for turning it off.
    Heck, what if a component you bought off the shelf that is use in your mod caused a fire?
    How do mod sellers protect themselves when shipping to other countries that have different laws?
    Any lawyers on Pinside that would know?

    Even if you put a disclaimer in, it doesn’t stop someone from suing you and you having to pay legal fees to defend yourself. So, again, insurance is your friend if you want to be risk adverse.

    #11 1 year ago
    Quoted from Nokoro:

    First off, you have insurance to cover you, your own home owners insurance.

    And after the dust has settled. Insurance fixes what ever needs fixing.

    Then that company within the insurance company starts looking for how or where they can get their money back.

    LTG : )

    #12 1 year ago

    Yet another question that comes to mind is how long are you responsible for that mod? A Year, or years, until it's removed.

    What if someone sells that machine and so on.

    #13 1 year ago
    Quoted from pinball_mutha:

    I'm not even sure what type of lawyer to ask these types of questions.

    You can use this site to search for a product liability lawyer near you. I’d send one or two an email, see if they think it’s worth you coming in for a consultation.
    https://injury.findlaw.com/product-liability/what-is-product-liability.html

    #14 1 year ago

    I'm sure one can find a fine upstanding lawyer willing to sue for whatever you think is right if your pockets are deep enough. No guarantees on your preferred outcome though.

    #15 1 year ago

    Why not reach out the major mod makers and ask what they do.
    Could be helpful

    #16 1 year ago

    I believe you can buy liability insurance as a business to protect you. There is definitely a lawyer that will sue for anything.

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    #17 1 year ago

    A liability issue is unlikely, but that makes the insurance for it inexpensive, so it might be worth it to a worrywart.

    #18 1 year ago
    Quoted from Elvishasleft:

    My guess would be most mod makers have never even thought of this scenario.

    Probably right. They're not blowing up the thread with "what I did was..." stories.

    #19 1 year ago

    The only thing I can see if a mod shorts or malfunctions and the wire is under gauged it could overheat. Most mods run off the games power and ones I've seen seem to be ok. If a mod were to malfunction it should blow the fuse of the voltage supply.

    #20 1 year ago
    Quoted from sethi_i:

    They're not blowing up the thread with "what I did was..." stories.

    No idea if the mod makers hear anything. People post here when they install a mod and it doesn't work.

    I do get tech support calls when they blow stuff up.

    LTG : )

    #21 1 year ago
    Quoted from sethi_i:

    Probably right. They're not blowing up the thread with "what I did was..." stories.

    Lol... yah insurance is one of those things you ignore or cross your fingers until you need it.

    If you are selling a product you need liability insurance and yes its expensive.

    #22 1 year ago

    I got a tech support call to fix a game that had several issues. It was recently purchased and showed up with a bunch of alligator clipped mods on it. It seemed that the clips shorted out and did a few funky things to damage the game. (It's always hard to tell what exactly happened coming in after the fact, because the owner did try to do some stuff before contacting me.) It took some board work, replacing a burnt out coil, and some burnt out bulbs. One of the mods seemed totally dead.

    The person who sold it to my customer did pony up and pay the repair bill, and for me to properly solder the mods in place. But I thought it was insanely risky to ship a game like that.

    #23 1 year ago

    here is all you gotta do if you sell products... just watch TV during the day and evening, pretty much any local programming or news and make note of how many lawyer commercials come on.

    In any given day 100 maybe? Now... commercials are expensive so how do lawyers afford such things? They sue companies for all kinds of shit.

    If you sell a product that could electrocute someone or cause them to electrocute themselves or installing it could accidentally cut their finger off.. or could damage their property.... or even if they think its scary and it causes them to lose sleep and causes "emotional distress"

    People will sue for just about anything these days and there are no lack of lawyers to take the case.

    #24 1 year ago

    I've looked into this some and haven't been able to convince myself that it's worth the trouble. I'm no lawyer but this is what I've come to understand:
    - An LLC is a good first step at protecting yourself but it is not fool proof. Legal arguments can be made to come after you personally.
    - If a part you use (like a 5 volt supply) goes bad the lawsuits have to come after you first before they go after the supply manufacturer.
    - Folks always seem to find ways to misuse things in ways you hadn't thought of (this one is based on first hand knowledge).
    - Things I have in mind don't have enough financial upside to offset lawsuits or even unhappy customers.

    So for now I build mostly for myself.

    /Mark

    #25 1 year ago
    Quoted from Elvishasleft:People will sue for just about anything these days and there are no lack of lawyers to take the case.

    70% of the worlds lawyers practice in the US.

    #26 1 year ago

    OP I believe your concerns are valid, especially if your mods require separate power shut off or similar, easily forgotten, steps for safe use. I also assume your mods are not being tested for compliance with applicable electrical standards, etc.

    At a minimum, you should have an LLC to maybe avoid personal liability for a catastrophic event.

    Definitely want liability insurance to cover any damages or injuries caused by your products, but it will be difficult to find and expensive because you don’t have any official testing or govt approvals. Maybe Lloyd’s of London type coverage, but will be too expensive.

    You should also include with your mod a very clear warning page. You can look at warning pages from electric heaters, power tools, pinball machines, and other devices to see examples of language. You need to state there is no warranty of any kind and that buyer assumes all risks. You need as much warning language as possible and it needs to be included with mod and maybe on box or package and on a sticker on the power supply itself.

    Of course it would be best to consult a lawyer, but no one ever wants to pay a lawyer.

    Oh, I am an injury lawyer.

    In the example you gave, a house fire, it is unlikely there would be sufficient proof that fire came from your mod specifically. But if it was determined to be the cause, you would like to be covered by some insurance and a detailed warning.

    #27 1 year ago

    1. You need an LLC. Cheap to setup and highly worth it.
    2. If you want your LLC to survive a lawsuit you need liability insurance.
    3. Anyone who sells anything as a hobby that can be misused by stupid people to result in bad things happening opens themselves to liability of their own personal assets. Is that a real risk ? Well do you own a house ? If so it’s a real risk.

    #28 1 year ago

    Interesting topic but also consider Stern's warning in the manual - any slight changes voids the warranty and puts it back to the owner. You may develop a mod and sell it with all good intention of providing a simple install with a clear and concise manual but if the purchaser misunderstands your manual or puts it into an already modded machine where quite possibly it has some dodgy installs performed in it (maybe by a previous owner) - where does the onus sit.

    I sell a mod for a 1993 game with a very clear manual and use Comet's plug in matrix system to connect my lighting to the games GI and feature lighting and noted I put in a warning at the back of my manual and always state before buying that people read the manual prior as you do get some interesting questions / statements. Sometimes it is also good to have these warnings just to protect your reputation as there is always one that did not read the manual and then abuses you publicly.

    Personally this is my limit of selling mods - bolt in mods with plug and play lighting from Comet Pinball. I see alarm bells when modders sell powered mods that use alligator clips - with vibration they can drop off and potential arc and cause a fire.

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    #29 1 year ago

    Wow, all this makes me really think about how anyone sells anything!

    Talking about warranty, this is partly why I would be using a separate power supply and also so it wouldn't use the systems power putting an unintended load on the pinball power supply.

    Also, are you still liable if a person installs the product and knows to turn it off with the game, but then sells the game with the mod and doesn't tell the person he sold it to that they are responsible to turn it off, and then problems happen because they don't turn it off.

    I will definitely need to talk to a lawyer.

    #30 1 year ago
    Quoted from pinball_mutha:

    Wow, all this makes me really think about how anyone sells anything!
    Talking about warranty, this is partly why I would be using a separate power supply and also so it wouldn't use the systems power putting an unintended load on the pinball power supply.
    Also, are you still liable if a person installs the product and knows to turn it off with the game, but then sells the game with the mod and doesn't tell the person he sold it to that they are responsible to turn it off, and then problems happen because they don't turn it off.
    I will definitely need to talk to a lawyer.

    in US games there is an outlet in the game - in the coin box area (in 90's Bally / WMS) and pretty sure that turns off when the machine is turned off - Europe and Aus machines do not have this.

    pinballs are one of those products that are serviced by owners or un/authorised service techs and over time have already have mods added etc and once this happens I believe all liability / risk sits with the machine owner.

    eg
    With a new car - when new you get it serviced at the approved service outlets and once you go to unauthorized Joe Blow around the corner as he is cheaper the warranty is void.
    With a TV - break the seal the warranty is void and then it's at the owners risk

    Games of the 90's have been serviced and hacked by god knows who over the last 30 years, then new Sterns have a very limited warranty of I think 60-90 days and even installing LED's voids the warranty so they wipe there hands of it - back onto the customer.

    I think it would be different and you be potentially liable if you supplied a mod and it instantly blew up a heap of stern boards - but comes down to:
    - your manual,
    - capability of the buyer,
    - the hacks the machine already has or
    - a faulty mod
    Therefore 2 items sit with you (point 1 & 4) so you ensure the manual is very detailed and almost foolproof and then you bench test prior and maybe include a step in the manual to get the customer to bench testing before going into the game to illuminate that risk of a faulty mod killing a game. The other 2 sit with a the buyer.

    Personally I would find a way to design a mod to turn off when the game is turned off. I would do a real detailed manual as well as so warranty void notes in the manual.

    #31 1 year ago
    Quoted from swinks:

    in US games there is an outlet in the game - in the coin box area (in 90's Bally / WMS) and pretty sure that turns off when the machine is turned off - Europe and Aus machines do not have this.

    I have a re-import WCS, it has the standard service outlet that requires a dongle cable, and it is always on.

    Service outlets are supposed to be always on - you're not going to be soldering wires with the machine powered on.

    #32 1 year ago
    Quoted from RatShack:

    I have a re-import WCS, it has the standard service outlet that requires a dongle cable, and it is always on.
    Service outlets are supposed to be always on - you're not going to be soldering wires with the machine powered on.

    I wasn't sure hence stating - pretty sure but I sure a few people hooked up to it with some mods and the power packs turned off when the game turned off.

    #33 1 year ago

    The service outlet would help for sure, but I did some checking and found that it is always on.

    I suppose you could connect a remote controlled outlet to it, but there again the user is still responsible to turn it off.

    So someone that buys a curling iron or or heater that doesn't have an auto off feature, what do companies do in those situations, I would think that would be a huge risk leaving it to the user to make sure they turn it off. If a curling iron burns down their house because they forgot to turn it off, I wouldn't think they could go after the manufacturer because they didn't follow instructions, or could they?

    #34 1 year ago

    Prove it. Kind of a silly conversation of "whatifism." Did your buyer install the mod correctly? Were other mods also installed? Were they drinking alcohol when they installed it? If you feel you are making something that is potentially dangerous then maybe dont do it. If you are making something the is 5v or 12v I think you are over examining the potential risks.

    #35 1 year ago

    Legalese and liability aside... I would never sell a mod that "clips in" or uses high voltage (stick to 12VDC or less)... just not worth the risk. Plopping aftermarket power-bricks in the unit is also risky... you have to be sure that those things have passed all of their certs. You cant even assume that the machine the mod is going into is in proper working order... and the person installing the mod has a clue.

    #36 1 year ago
    Quoted from pinball_mutha:

    The service outlet would help for sure, but I did some checking and found that it is always on.
    I suppose you could connect a remote controlled outlet to it, but there again the user is still responsible to turn it off.
    So someone that buys a curling iron or or heater that doesn't have an auto off feature, what do companies do in those situations, I would think that would be a huge risk leaving it to the user to make sure they turn it off. If a curling iron burns down their house because they forgot to turn it off, I wouldn't think they could go after the manufacturer because they didn't follow instructions, or could they?

    Since you keep asking the same question over and over I think you know the answer..

    If you are risk averse (which you seem to be) and selling a product you need insurance...

    You of course do not have to have it but anyone at any time can sue you for pretty much anything.

    Even if you are just a person and not selling anything if you have any net worth to protect you should have umbrella insurance.

    #37 1 year ago
    Quoted from pinball_mutha:

    The service outlet would help for sure, but I did some checking and found that it is always on.
    I suppose you could connect a remote controlled outlet to it, but there again the user is still responsible to turn it off.
    So someone that buys a curling iron or or heater that doesn't have an auto off feature, what do companies do in those situations, I would think that would be a huge risk leaving it to the user to make sure they turn it off. If a curling iron burns down their house because they forgot to turn it off, I wouldn't think they could go after the manufacturer because they didn't follow instructions, or could they?

    Product liability law is complex, and the situations where it is triggered are varied. A company that makes curling irons certainly has insurance. And, they work with their lawyers and their insurance companies to mitigate their risk. They also have deeper pockets making them more attractive to sue. So the risk is greater as well.

    The theme of this thread is, if you want protection, find an insurance broker and talk to them to get appropriate insurance.

    #38 1 year ago
    Quoted from swinks:

    With a new car - when new you get it serviced at the approved service outlets and once you go to unauthorized Joe Blow around the corner as he is cheaper the warranty is void.

    Not in the US.
    https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0138-auto-warranties-routine-maintenance

    #39 1 year ago

    Thanks for all the information everyone!

    Sorry, I didn't mean to go down a rabbit hole with the other scenarios not related to pinball mods. I'll keep it on topic.

    Hey there! Got a moment?

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