Hobbyist needs advice around managing project liability/risk

Hello All,

I'm a hobbyist who would appreciate some advice from the Particle community. My question/concern is about liability and the devices I'm building.

I’ve built a device for my sister who is involved in animal rescue. It allows her to trap feral cats remotely. It’s basically a Particle Boron attached to a servo. Very simple. She’s catching cats "left and right" and other rescues are dying for one of their own.

After field testing a couple units, I’m ready to distribute my next wave of devices to 5-10 rescuers. I’m worried about my personal liability when someone brings my device out of the cold Massachusetts woods, attempts to recharge a frozen 10Ah battery, and burns their house down. My target users are non-technical people who will likely abuse the device in a harsh environment and I have to assume they won't follow the usage instructions from LiPo battery manufacturers. Do you think the typical LiPo batteries that one finds on sites like Adafruit present a risk of fire?

I don’t really want to incorporate just for liability protection on this small non-profit endeavor. I've considered publishing the code and an "Instructable" but I think that will be beyond their ability.

I'm assuming lot of other Particle community members have dealt with this risk already. How do you deal with liability risk if you're not incorporated? Are there any best practices or common ideas?

Thanks!

Are you building them as a volunteer for the non profit?
Are you selling the finished products to them or giving them for free?

Hi @lance

Welcome to Particle forum!! :wave:

There are a lot of people in here that know a lot more than me, having said that, I have worked with a couple of battery applications before, all in 'challenging' environments. Without fail, I stayed far away from standard LiPO batteries for various reasons. For one, battery life will be affected drastically by extreme temperatures, let alone the risk of damage as you are aware of.

I always reverted to Primary cell applications with SAFT LM or SAFT LS being my battery of choice. As you now do not have the luxury of recharging the battery, you need to make sure the device is as efficient as possible of course.

Another option you might want to look at is the SAFT MP range. It is indeed rechargeable and has a wide temperature range as well.

Hope this helps.

Regards,
Friedl.

I'm not selling them. I'm donating them. Some will go to organizations (rescues that are formally non-profits). Some will go to volunteers acting as individuals not associated with a particular non-profit but who perform the same task of rescuing animals.

Thanks Friedl. I'll check out the SAFT MP range as I definitely need it to be rechargeable. And I can tolerate a lower efficiency of the LiPo due to cold weather as it won't often be deployed in sub-zero (F) temperatures. My only concern is the risk of misuse.

Hi Lance.

You can also look into LiFePO4 type batteries as it is a much more stable chemistry than standard LiPO. More alternatives are RC Car batteries or Drone batteries. They might be little cheaper than SAFT MP but doubt it carries the same certifications.

A lot depend on your power requirement of your device though, but you should be able to find a solution in any of these more stable chemistries.

Sounds like an interesting project. I used SAFT non-rechargeable ones in a similar project. Client was monitoring leopard cages. They had to be relocated.

Not a lawyer...

Section 89.002 - Liability for Damages From Donated Device

A person authorized to possess a device is not liable for personal injury, property damage, or death resulting from the nature, age, packaging, or condition of a device that the person donates in good faith to an entity that is authorized to possess the device and that is a nonprofit health care organization for use in providing free or reduced cost health care.

Tex. Civ. Prac. and Rem. Code § 89.002

Thanks Friedl and Test123. Test123, your excerpt is promising enough that I think I'll follow-up with a lawyer to be clear for my situation.

I am a little surprised that more people in the Particle community aren't weighing in on this. I would think this is a common concern of innovators who aren't covered by a corporate structure.

Hey Lance, how about those no liability forms that some places ask you to sign? Maybe you can protect yourself by having them sign one? Another point to talk to your lawyer about if you want.

yup. I think that's a good idea too. Thanks.

So far, ideas for risk reduction or liability protection include...

  • use a battery technology other than LiPo
  • see what protections that law already affords me
  • have them sign a waver
  • require them to source their own battery
  • require them to build their own device via an Instructable and open source code
  • incorporate
  • see what insurance coverage I can get unincorporated (such as an umbrella policy)

I guess my next step is to talk to some lawyers and my insurance company. Still in disbelief that I'm the first Particle customer to worry about this.

Hi @lance -

I am not in US, so maybe things are different over there. My advice would be to just not overthink this :wink: If you are using e.g. SAFT MP batteries, chances are the devices will outlive you and all of us here, without any batteries going boom :smile: They are Military Grade products :mechanical_arm:

I have been through this exercise, but it was for quite a large government project that required all these certifications/documentation ect.

For smaller clients, I have not gone through all of these steps for sure. Aside from what I deem to be safe to use, I do not think more diligence is warranted. If you are giving these away, I would personally not do all of that, maybe just as @gusgonnet suggested, make them sign a waiver/indemnity form ?

I too have worried about safety/liability of gifted electronics projects. Especially with rechargeable battery operated ones. There is another alternative which I have not seen listed here and is definitely much safer and has a wider operating/recharging range for outdoor usage and your amp-hour requirement. This alternative is old fashion lead acid technology. Gel type lead acid batteries have been in existence for over 100 years. Most of these options are about half the cost of typical lithium based products. Yes, you would probably need to incorporate a buck converter (12v to 5v or less), but those are inexpensive.

I am not a lawyer but I think you should consider forming an LLC with the primary purpose to protect your personal assets from any lawsuits that could arise. A real lawyer can help with that, I'm sure.

I have looking into getting professional liability insurance in the past and it is generally pretty expensive.

I vote for the LLC too. Was very easy in my state.

As for the battery, I have a lot of experience in remote outdoor equipment and Sealed Lead Acid (SLA, AGM) batteries are the best choice. They can operate in a wide temperature range, and are very safe to handle and charge. They come in many sizes and voltages.

You could easily add a solar panel and appropriate charging circuit to keep the battery charged.
Just be sure to use a temperature compensated charge circuit.
As it gets colder outside the max charge voltage needs to adjust up.