Samsung phones are safe now? Liar, liar, pants on fire.

While Samsung says their phones are now safe, the multi-million-dollar company may have to work harder to regain consumer trust.

Technology enthusiasts anticipated August 19 as if Christmas had come early.  Samsung announced that the Galaxy Note 7 would be released on that date and the preorders streamed in.  The Galaxy Note line has been a popular addition for the company.  The phone boasts one of the largest screens on the market with a 5.7 inch Super AMOLED display, and an internal hard drive capable of outrunning a small computer.  In their attempts to get ahead of the competition, the new Note 7 also offers an iris scanner and curved edges similar to the Galaxy Edge.  With all of the added features and the large screen size, Samsung has struggled to find a battery that can cope with the grueling demand of a 12-hour day with constant use.

The Note 7 claims to have a larger battery capacity than its predecessors.  That larger capacity means that there will be a longer battery life for the phone; a benefit that many users have been hoping for.  However, this benefit may have some life threatening side effects, as Mr. Jonathan Strobel found out early in September.  Jonathan was shopping in his local Costco store in Palm Beach Gardens when the battery in his new Samsung Note 7 burst into flames while in his front pants pocket.  Unfortunately, Strobel received second degree burns to his leg and thumb, and lost a good pair of khaki shorts.

“This is quite the disappointment for Samsung since the production of the Note 7 was rushed in order to beat the Iphone7 to the market.” 

The investigation following the explosion showed that there was an error in the production of the batteries that placed pressure on the plates within the battery.  The pressure connected positive and negative poles which created a high amount of heat.  The liquid used inside of the batteries is also highly flammable; these two factors lead to a bad combination.

Samsung quickly recalled one million Note 7s, after receiving numerous reports of batteries overheating in the United States and catching fire.  To date, there have been 26 reports of burns and 55 reports of property damage.  Samsung has issued a warning to all Note 7 owners to box up their phones and return them for a remedy of their choice.  The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has since advised against using or charging the Note 7 while on flights, Transport Canada restricted the Note 7 to cabin carry only, and three airlines in Australia have banned the phone all together.

This is quite the disappointment for Samsung since the production of the Note 7 was rushed in order to beat the Iphone7 to the market.  They were successful at their release date; however, with the recall, they may have lost more than just the one million recalled phones.  At this point, many purchasers may be tired of dealing with a defective phone line and opt to purchase Apple’s seventh generation phones.

Samsung and Apple have been in close competition with each other so it would not be surprising for one company to try and beat the other to the market.  The two companies have filed lawsuits against each other in the past over copyright infringement, and usually look for the best ways to undercut the other’s sales.  Even though Samsung produces components that apple uses, Samsung still strives to sell its own products.

“Usually, products contain fine print that seeks to cover the extent of liability for the company; however, they cannot waive liability when the product is correctly used and causes harm.”

As stories of exploding batteries continue to emerge, the question becomes, how much is it going to cost Samsung?  The sale of the Note 7 is regulated by the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) in the United States.  The UCC requires that products sold have certain warranties that follow the products to the seller.  The UCC is in place to provide a uniform and predictable commercial law that can be applied to various situations.  The UCC itself states that the intention of the code is “to simplify, clarify and modernize” commercial law transactions.  Among the warranties covered in the UCC, the warranty of fitness and the warranty of merchantability are where remedies can be found for consumers.  Usually, products contain fine print that seeks to cover the extent of liability for the company; however, the company cannot waive liability when the product is used correctly and still causes harm.

The warranty of fitness requires that the good fits the particular use for which it is sold.  This warranty is implied with every sale involving goods.  Usually, phone purchasers are relying on the seller’s skill in order to find a phone that will fit the phone purchaser’s purpose.  However, the warranty of fitness usually involves a good that does not “live up” to the claims of the seller.  On the other hand, the warranty of merchantability sets a minimum standard for the goods so that if the goods do not meet that standard, a seller can trigger the warranty of merchantability.  Under the warranty of merchantability, the goods must be “fit for the ordinary purposes for which such goods are used.”  Needless to say, a randomly exploding phone is unlikely to pass the “ordinary purpose test.”

“At this point Samsung may claim that the new battery within the Note 7 is safe but the damage has already been done.”  

Samsung will likely settle with the individuals who have been injured because it would not be worth going to court.  For injuries caused by defective products, settling is much more efficient than going to trial only to lose.  The commercial market is a risky place for defective products.  Similar to the GMC fiasco with defective starter switches, this defect had the potential­—and fulfilled that potential—to cause bodily and property harm.

The recall was Samsung’s attempt to limit damages suffered from the exploding batteries.  Since the recall, the company has claimed that the battery was the sole cause of the explosions.  The Samsung SDI battery that was causing the fires has been replaced, and the company claims the phones are safe with the new ATL batteries.  However, there is still doubt surrounding the safety of the cellular phones after the battery switch.

When the Note 7’s released in China, they were released with ATL batteries from the beginning, and since the release, there has been a phone explosion in China as well.  Both ATL and Samsung claim that that explosion was due to external heating.  At this point Samsung may claim that the new battery within the Note 7 is safe, but the damage has already been done.   The “safe” Note 7s will probably have low sales due to the lack of trust from consumers.

Only time will tell whether the problem has been corrected fully and the costs of the Note 7’s defect is only in its infancy.  Samsung can at least rest assured that they recalled the product before someone was seriously injured.  If you plan on buying a Samsung Note 7, be sure you check to see if the box has an “S” on the cover.  If the box does not contain an “S” or a black square on the front, you could be purchasing a one-way ticket to a hot pocket and flaming pants.

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About Cyrus Corbett V, Associate Editor Emeritus (16 Articles)
Cyrus Corbett V is a 2017 graduate of Campbell Law School and served as an Associate Editor for the Campbell Law Observer during the 2016-2017 academic year. He is from Murrells Inlet, South Carolina and received his Bachelors in Arts in Government from Wofford College in 2014. Since July after his first year of law school, Cyrus has interned at the North Carolina Retail Merchants Association in downtown Raleigh focusing on the Retail Merchants Handbook. His interest is in jurisprudence of the law and negotiation/ mediation.
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