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People asking to buy from me. Liability? Answered

I did an instructable for a light switch I built that has a rotary light switch hidden inside a water valve.  I've had a couple of people contact me wanting to buy one preassembled and got to wondering if I'd be opening myself up to liability issues with something like that.  While the rotary switch itself is UL listed and is unmodified, obviously my thing isn't..



Several people have recommended that you see a lawyer and that really is the right thing to do. A good attorney will either take you on as a client or recommend someone else, who in turn pays them a fee.

The attorney will probably recommend forming an LLC, which limits your personal liability and lets you take on a very small number of investors if you so choose.

Down below you mention that you have a person who wants to buy some number of the switches. That's really good news! You should really think about how this can lead to bigger things in the future.

Look at companies like Adafruit, OtherMachine, Sparkfun and even Instructables (it wasn't always autodesk and this site must have scary liability risk). They make products that other people use in their products, hobbies and instructables. Some of their products and information can cause fire, injury, explosions and electrocution. In this site's case, pretty much all those things can happen in just one instructable. These companies all made it over the bootstrapping the startup phase.

Yet don't think I'm advocating for going big, quitting your job and just making switches. What I'm saying is that you can pretty easily get everything squared away so you limit your liability and can make a few bucks on the side to fuel future projects. The upfront cost of starting a side business is a little annoying, but after that you can keep building and selling under that name forever.

Good luck!

I've wondered the same thing about the Etsy sellers. I built a pipe lamp that my wife doesn't like in the house - something about décor. I thought about bringing it into work after it was banished to the basement. However, I passed on that idea after considering the safety/legal issues of having a homemade lamp in the office. BTW, I plan on adding your switch to my design.

Not taking a DIY lamp into my office would have never occurred to me as a problem. I had a guy in Finland that has a lamp business wanting to buy some of the switches and that scared me. What I think may be safest is selling as a kit where I'd prep everything first and let them insert the switch in the valve themselves.

Yes, my work has strict rules about what can be plugged into the outlets. A few months ago someone started a fire in another building with a halogen lamp which displaced 500 people for a day. I don't want to be that guy.

I read up an Etsy and liability. Lots of opinions but not a clear answer. Your idea of selling the parts seems like a good approach to me but I'm sure a hungry attorney could still poke holes in it.

As for decor, she's ok with some of my other instructables but the pipe lamp must go. Yes, we've already had the paint discussion :).

Speaking of significant others and decor. I had an idea for a lamp project (not pipe) and mentioned it to mine. Her response was "You're not putting that in this house." I did a rendering of it in Autocad and now she wants two floor standing models for our family room if the table sized lamp turns out well. Also, has your wife taught you yet that walls can be painted colors other than white? Who knew?

It depends how it is used and installed.

For everything under mains power, like 12V installations there is little risk.

But for mains power use your worst nightmare is electrical safety.

The switch could fail when the handle is moved to hard or the insulation breaks.

In most countries you need to be qualified for electrical installations so if people do it themself and something happens it could come back to you.

I have seen people selling similar electrical things but labeled them as "novelty item" or "steam punk look" with a clear reminder for the use on low voltage only.

There are several ways to stay safe:

A) include a plastic enclosure for the switch and cable connection so it is fully isolated from the metal parts.

B) Have it checked and tested by a qulified electrician that is allowed to sing off on electrical installations. You might have to pay him a fee though but you get a piece of paper stating your item is safe (or not).

C) Combine A and B and have a lawyer write you a nice disclaimer that protects you in terms of liability. Include a copy of it with the item, bill and pre-payment.

In almost all cases nothing will ever happen, but if it does and it comes back to you it might mean to pay for the rest of your life.

Better get the safety and legal stuff sorted before selling ;)

Yeah, I can imagine somebody hooking up the hot side to the switch, running too much through it, maybe damaging the insulation, shorting to the pipe. Not good. And for the few I'd sell and what I could charge, probably not worth buying liability insurance.

If you only sell to friends, mates and family members I see no problem anyway as most likely you can give solid advise and warning yourself.

Ebay is a different story as most dodgy sellers operate from outside the country they are selling to, making it next to impossible to do anything if the unthinkable happens.

Another way to think about it would be to go BIG.

Make a really good prototype and approach some companies building lamps and other things retro style.

Make a good deal with them and sell you idea to them.

This way you can keep selling to the people you know and for marketing and liability for the commercial part someone else has to worry.

To use a fixed sum or to be included in a percentage of the sale would be the biggest question in case someone takes your offer.

Makes me wonder how all the "pipe lamp" sellers on Etsy handle that. Maybe set up a LLC to insulate them personally?

Warn them that the switch may not be "up to code" in their area, and strongly advise them to have the worked checked by a certified professional.

Include some text that they have to read before they pay, something along the lines of this device is supplied without warranty, promise or implication that it meets building or electrical regulations in the purchasers place of residence. On that basis, liability for damage or loss to person or property cannot be accepted by the vendor.

You should get the exact wording checked by a proper lawyer, though. ;-)