Sandton couple sue after recalled Gizzu power station catches fire in their home office

20 December 2023 - 10:20
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The damaged items are numbered.
The damaged items are numbered.
Image: Supplied

Peter Chang ordered an R8,000 Gizzu power station from online retailer on March 13, unaware that on that day, the product’s Cape Town-based supplier recalled a batch of them, warning “some power stations have overheated while charging, posing a potential fire risk”.

Syntech, which imports Gizzu products from China, posted its voluntary recall notice on its social media platforms on March 13 and instructed retailers to halt sales and contact those who’d bought the affected units, urging them to stop using them immediately.

The next day — a day before Chang’s power station was delivered to his Sandton home — the National Consumer Commission (NCC) warned consumers of the potential danger posed by a particular batch of 300Wh and 500Wh power stations. The commission estimated the number of units sold at 3,500.

When Chang’s power station was delivered on March 15 he was still unaware of the danger, so he plugged it in at the home office he shared with his wife Po Yan Angel Lee.

Syntech director Ryan Martyn said retailers such as Massmart, Takealot and Loot had the affected customers’ contact details and were thus able to reach them directly and arrange for the return of the hazardous products.

But Chang says he got no recall notification from Loot and continued to use the power station until the evening of April 23 when it caught fire, destroying or damaging most of the office contents — including a R150,000 full body massage chair — and damaging the office.

The NCC warned in its recall notification: “The affected devices have a battery manufacturing flaw which presents a possibility of the product self-combusting and melting when it is charging. In cases where the product’s battery self-combusts, a non-toxic cloud of smoke is released, which may present a fire hazard to nearby furniture.”

Chang’s was one of 18 power stations among the recalled batch which later “self-combusted”, Syntech said.

While the couple’s house was insured, the contents were not and they suffered a financial loss of about R254,000.

“From April to September, we engaged Syntech and Loot to take responsibility for the damage,” Chang told TimesLIVE. “Syntech refused to take responsibility on the basis that it issued a recall to Loot, who, it claims, did not implement the recall. Loot has never substantively responded to us, claiming they are awaiting feedback from their insurers.”

The couple have since instituted legal proceedings against Syntech and Africa Online Retail, trading as, for their losses: R254,000, plus R8,000 for the power station, their building insurance excess of R1,304 relating to the office damage repair claim, and the R6,550 they paid a private fire company which dealt with the fire on the day of the incident.

There will always be people who do not read the recall notice or choose not to take action
Ryan Martyn, Syntech director 

They are relying on the Consumer Protection Act’s section 61 — liability for damage caused by goods — which holds the producer or importer, distributor or retailer of goods liable for harm caused by a product failure, defect or hazard in goods, irrespective of whether they were negligent.

Asked to confirm that Chang did not receive any recall notification from Loot, and whether other affected customers were notified of the recall, Loot’s acting CEO Shakeerah Diedericks said there was “wide media coverage from March 15 explaining in detail the method consumers had to follow to assess if their Gizzu had been recalled”.

In court papers, Loot said it trades as a marketplace, not a retailer, and thus is not liable for the failure, defect or hazard of the goods sold on its platform.

Diedericks told TimesLIVE the matter was being investigated by the company’s insurers and their assessors.

“It is a complex matter,” she said. “As the matter has now gone legal and given the complexity and sensitivity of the investigation, we are not in a position to divulge more, as much as we would like to. We await the outcome of the investigation.”

Martyn said Syntech had to depend on the retailers to make direct contact with those who’d bought the affected power stations.

“We gave them all the serial numbers, plus detailed guidelines on what to do,” he said. “Some responded better than others.”

The Chang incident was one of 18 involving recalled Gizzu power stations after the issuing of the recall, Martyn said, but by far the most serious.

“There will always be people who do not read the recall notice or choose not to take action,” he said.

Syntech had settled claims with a value of less than R50,000 directly, Martyn said, without involving the company’s insurers.

“In most cases the owners saw the units were smoking and immediately took them outside, avoiding damage, so we replaced the units.”

But the quantum of Chang’s claim meant he had to pass the case to the company’s insurers, Martyn said.

“I feel sorry for them — no-one wants to go through that. But we’ve been instructed by our insurers not to communicate with them,” he said.

Chang said he had given both companies “ample time” to attempt to claim from their public liability insurers before issuing summons.

“While litigation is no doubt a costly and mentally draining exercise, we are fortunate to be in a position to afford a lawyer,” he said. “Many are not.”

With legal pleadings now closed, Chang said “action will be taken in the new year to set the matter down for hearing”.

Do you need help with a consumer issue? Contact Wendy Knowler for advice via e-mail or on X (Twitter) @wendyknowler

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