Products Liability and the Samsung Galaxy Note 7

October 17, 2016

Lately, Samsung has been having problems with its new smartphone product, the Galaxy Note 7. The company, most notable for their electronics, has been the cause of cancelled airplane flights, burning cars, hotel room destruction, and house fires. The cause behind all of these incidents is the battery in Samsung’s smartphone. The phone has had a problem of overheating, catching fire, and even exploding while charging. Released in August, there have been thirty-five confirmed cases of smartphones catching on fire by September 1st. All these were all due to the Note 7’s lithium ion battery pack.

Samsung’s manufacturing process caused the positive and negative electrodes inside the smartphone battery to touch, heating up a liquid solvent inside the battery to a point that it catches fire.

Products liability is an area of the law that attempts to hold a seller liable for a defective product that it sells. Sellers can be held responsible for three types of product defects – manufacturing defects, design defects, and marketing defects. Design defects may not apply in the Samsung Note 7 situation. Manufacturing defects occur when a product departs from its intended design. In this case, Samsung intended to sell a phone that is safe for ordinary use but failed to do so.

Samsung could be then held accountable under the legal theory of implied warranty of merchantability. A breach of the implied warranty of merchantability occurs when a seller, who is a merchant, sells a defective product that was defective when it leaves the merchant’s control. Then, if that defect causes an injury or loss to a user, the user can hold the seller liable for the damage caused by that defective product.

A marketing defect occurs when the seller fails to warn the user about a potential danger with the product that it knows about. Samsung knew about the problems with its battery by September, but did not issue a recall until September 15. After that point, Samsung sent out replacement phones that were supposed to be safe, but they began catching fire as well. These supposedly safe phones included the phone that caught fire on a Southwest flight. If Samsung is sued over injuries caused by its Note 7 phone, September 15 may well be the dividing line between consumers just recouping their losses and being able to get punitive damages.

If a Note 7 phone injured a consumer before the September 15 recall, they would be able to sue for damages caused by the phone catching fire. These damages would be limited to foreseeable damages, or what Samsung could have reasonably foreseen happening as a result of exploding phones. For example, if you burnt your hand on a hot phone, you could recover medical expenses, but if your car caught on fire because you were charging your phone while driving, it might be up to a judge or jury to determine whether you could recover those losses.

However, punitive damages come into play when the seller has prior knowledge of the danger and takes no action. Samsung recalled the faulty phones on September 15, but then sent out replacement phones that were just as dangerous. This could be seen as consciously indifferent behavior by Samsung, so they could potentially be hit with significant verdicts to punish the company for its actions.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 is a dangerous product, and if you have one you should get it replaced immediately. The law is designed to protect consumers from damage caused by defective products. Not only could you recover your own losses but you may also be helping someone else avoid injury if the manufacturer is put on notice.