Samsung’s Product Liability Nightmare

fire-phone

By: Courtney Gilmore,

Less than two months after its much-anticipated launch, Samsung Electronics Company has done away with its Galaxy Note7 Smartphone. On October 10, Samsung issued a statement asking all carrier and retail partners around the globe to discontinue sales and exchanges of the Galaxy Note7.[1] This statement comes after Samsung initially recalled 2.5 million Note7 devices in early September following various reports of the phones catching fire.[2] However, just as Samsung was under the impression that the defect was cured, incidents of the product catching fire continued despite the issuance of replacement devices.

Samsung’s product liability nightmare is widespread. Recently, a Kentucky resident awoke to his bedroom filled with smoke and soon discovered that the source of the smoke was his phone, which was on fire.[3] Samsung allegedly requested that the man hand over his phone for further inspection, but he skeptically refused to give it up as proof of his injury. Samsung apparently did pay for the phone to be examined for cause.[4] The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has been investigating another replacement Galaxy Note7 that caught fire on a Southwest airplane at the Louisville airport.[5] Moreover, a California resident is suing Samsung for second and third degree burns caused by the explosion of his Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge.[6] Though not a Note7, it is yet another Samsung product that has sparked the public’s concerns over product liability actions.

Samsung suspects the cause is defective batteries in the phones and has alleged the fault of one particular battery supplier.[7] The device contains a commonly used lithium-ion battery, which prompts potential issues such as the faulty combination of the “battery’s voltage control system and low-quality materials that go inside a battery cell.”[8] In light of the faulty battery concerns, questions have been raised regarding Samsung’s quality control practices.[9] When a supplier is aiming to mass-produce a product in a short amount of time, quality issues can certainly arise.[10] “Consumer demand drives smaller, thinner devices, and manufacturers are under a lot of pressure to meet those specs on a very tight timeline,” says Elliot Kaye, head of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.[11]

Notably, Samsung’s latest debacle is not the first product to experience difficulty with the lithium-ion battery. The hoverboard craze came to a screeching halt in 2015 as a result of the batteries in various devices catching fire.[12] Much like the Galaxy Note7, some hoverboards exploded while charging while others exploded while in operation.[13] Sony’s laptops experienced a similar fate in 2008 when the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recalled about 35,000 Sony laptop batteries after several reports of fires.[14] While other manufacturers have experienced battery-related recalls in the past, Samsung’s losses appear to significantly surpass those of Sony and the hoverboard.

Samsung is now asking consumers “with an original Galaxy Note7 or a replacement Galaxy Note7 to power it down and contact the carrier or retail outlet where [they] purchased [the] Galaxy Note7.”[15] This recall is estimated to cost Samsung nearly $17 billion.[16] With the holiday season rapidly approaching, Samsung’s production halt will likely prove to be significantly beneficial to Samsung’s primary competitors in the market.[17] Amid the legal battle between Samsung and Apple over Samsung’s alleged infringement upon Apple’s design patents, in addition to the release of Apple’s iPhone 7, Samsung’s recall woes could not come at a worse time.[18]

 

 

[1] See Samsung, Updated Consumer Guidance for the Galaxy Note7 (Oct. 10, 2016), http://www.samsung.com/us/note7recall/.

[2] See Se Young Lee, Samsung Scraps Galaxy Note 7 over Fire Concerns, Reuters (Oct. 11, 2016, 2:09 PM), http://www.reuters.com/article/us-samsung-elec-smartphones-idUSKCN12A2JH.

[3] See Monique Blair, Nicholasville Man Injured by Replacement Samsung Phone, WYKT (Oct. 8, 2016, 10:02 PM), http://www.wkyt.com/content/news/Nicholasville-mans-replacement-Samsung-Galaxy-Note-7-catches-fire-396431431.html.

[4] See id.

[5] See Emily Field, CPSC Probing Report of Samsung Galaxy Note Fire on Plane, Law360 (Oct. 6, 2016, 6:55 PM), http://www.law360.com/technology/articles/848988/cpsc-probing-report-of-samsung-galaxy-note-fire-on-plane?nl_pk=a6f0df19-c127-4444-8e8b-a4c34dfadf0b&utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=technology.

[6] See Robert Donachie, These Pictures Show the Horrifying Result of Samsung’s Phone Explosions, Daily Caller (Sept. 12, 2016, 12:51 PM), http://dailycaller.com/2016/09/12/samsung-phone-explodes-in-mans-pocket-causes-3rd-degree-burns/.

[7] See Jonathan Cheng and Eun-Young Jeong, Samsung Faces New Questions Over Galaxy Note 7 Fires, Wall Street Journal (Oct. 10, 2016, 9:48 AM), http://www.wsj.com/articles/as-incidents-mount-samsung-faces-new-questions-about-galaxy-note-7-recall-cause-1476105325

[8] See id.

[9] See id.

[10] See id.

[11] See Field, supra note 5.

[12] See Sean Hollister, Here Are the Reasons Why So Many Hoverboards Are Catching Fire, CNET (July 9, 2016, 3:43 PM), https://www.cnet.com/news/why-are-hoverboards-exploding-and-catching-fire/.

[13] See id.

[14] See Brian X. Chen, Laptop Fires Prompt Sony Battery Recall – Again, Wired (Oct. 30, 2008, 6:10 PM), https://www.wired.com/2008/10/laptop-fires-pr/.

[15] See Samsung, supra note 1.

[16] See Samsung Halts Production of Troubled Galaxy Note 7, Al Jazeera (Oct. 11, 2016), http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/10/samsung-galaxy-note-7-phones-turned-161011060404586.html.

[17] See Lee, supra note 2 (Neil Mawston, analyst at Strategy Analytics, explaining that “the gap is likely to be filled by rivals including Apple and Google Pixel, although probably Oppo, Vivo, LG Electronics, and Sony stand to benefit the most.”).

[18] See Kat Greene, US to Argue in Samsung High Court Fight Over Apple Win, Law360 (Sept. 26, 2016, 9:54 PM), http://www.law360.com/technology/articles/844976/us-to-argue-in-samsung-high-court-fight-over-apple-win?nl_pk=a6f0df19-c127-4444-8e8b-a4c34dfadf0b&utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=technology.

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(Update: report refuted) Samsung said to deactivate defective Note 7 devices if not exchanged

 

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