Users say overheating batteries cause serious burn injuries from wearable devices
The lawsuit against Fitbit over burn injuries brings to light significant concerns regarding the safety of wearable technology. Here’s why two plaintiffs commenced a class action lawsuit for their injuries.
Do you track your steps?
Lots of us do these days, because doctors and researchers are telling us that hitting a certain number of steps a day benefits our health. For people who aren’t into smartwatches, they might be wearing a Fitbit fitness tracker. A Fitbit is a wearable device that tracks the user’s daily physical activity, like steps, distance, calories burned, and sometimes sleep patterns.
Most Fitbit users wear the device on their wrist like a watch.
The company reports that as of 2019, it had 29 million active users on its platform. It’s sold more than 136 million devices since 2010. There were about 120 million registered users in 2022.
However, now, the company is facing personal injury lawsuits. The lawsuit against Fitbit was filed after multiple users reported sustaining burn injuries from their devices. The plaintiffs alleged that the injuries were a result of design flaws or malfunctioning batteries in certain Fitbit models. These reports prompted concerns over the safety of wearable technology, especially devices that are in constant contact with the skin.
Why are users filing lawsuits against Fitbit?
In 2022, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recalled the Fitbit Ionic smartwatch because the battery could burn the user. Some lithium-ion batteries in the devices had overheated, and users reported burn injuries.
Fitbit received more than 115 reports of the watch battery overheating, 78 of which resulted in burn injuries. Two users suffered third-degree burns and four reported second-degree burns. There were also 40 burn injury reports by users outside the U.S.
Fitbit class action lawsuit
A class-action lawsuit is one claim for many people with similar injuries. In other words, there’s one lawsuit and one verdict, but each member of the class (i.e. each plaintiff) splits the award. This typically happens when multiple injuries are related to a single defective product or condition with the same defendant.
In this instance, the lawsuit was filed by plaintiffs Jenny Houtchens, who claimed the Fitbit Versa Lite model burned her daughters wrist; and Samantha Ramirez, who claimed a Versa 2 smartwatch burned her.
Google Fitbit (Google acquired Fitbit in 2021) was named as the defendant in a class action lawsuit that claims the smartwatch devices are prone to overheating and causing burn injuries (Houtchens v. Google LLC, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, No. 22-cv-02638). The lawsuit includes additional devices to those named in the recall.
The lawsuit includes Fitbit Ionic, Fitbit Versa, Fitbit Sense, Fitbit Inspire and Fitbit Blaze models. The suit was filed by two women who represent the class of consumers who were injured by the devices. Aside from claims by people who were injured, the lawsuit claims that the defect affects even people who don’t use a Fitbit—because they could overheat and cause a fire in a place like an airplane or other public space. The FAA had banned Fitbit Ionic watches on planes, but the lawsuit claims the other devices also pose a similar risk.
The lawsuit claims Fitbits are “unreasonably dangerous.”
Among the claims is that Fitbit was avoiding liability for the products not included in the Ionic recall in order to protect sales. The plaintiffs said that Fitbit tried to blame their personal hygiene for the defect, rather than acknowledging that the battery was overheating and causing burns on their skin.
They claimed that the recall did not go far enough in restoring financial injuries to plaintiffs. Plaintiffs presented evidence to the court that showed the extent of their burn injuries.
The complaint says: “Because Defendant continues to reap its spoils, and gives the false impression that the Products are safe, Defendant exposes this risk to millions of Americans every day while also knowingly selling consumers defective Products that are worth less than represented.”
Product liability lawsuits
Product liability law exists to protect consumers who are injured by faulty devices or poor warning labels.
The lawsuit claims the defect is present in more device versions than the recalled Ionic model, and the defendant failed to warn consumers about that possibility. This is important because the complaint goes on to say that, “rather than fixing the defect, telling the truth to consumers, and protecting consumers that trusted in the company, Google merely places the blame on a long deactivated device.”
Since part of the lawsuit is related to the purchase of defective products, even for people who have not suffered actual physical injury, the class (for the class action) is open to any individual who meets one of these criteria:
- Multi-State consumer class: All persons in the States of California, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Oregon, and Washington who purchased the products.
- California class: All persons who purchased defendant’s product within the state of California and within the applicable statute of limitations.
- Pennsylvania class: All persons who purchased defendant’s product within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and within the applicable statute of limitations.
- Nationwide class: All persons who purchased defendant’s product within the United States and within the applicable statute of limitations period.
One result of the Fitbit lawsuit is that consumer safety advocates called for stricter regulations on wearable technology, emphasizing the need for thorough testing and transparent reporting of potential risks. The Fitbit lawsuit is a cautionary tale about the potential risks associated with wearable technology. It underscores the importance of comprehensive safety standards and responsible manufacturing practices in the tech industry. As wearable devices continue to evolve, the focus on user safety and product reliability will likely become even more critical.
If you have been burned (literally!) by a faulty Fitbit battery, you can contact a personal injury lawyer to see if you’re eligible to join a class action lawsuit.