It was going to blow up this way sooner or later.
After news emerged that Samsung had received 92 reports in the US about the battery in its Galaxy Note 7 phone overheating — including 26 cases involving burns — it seemed only time before someone would contact a lawyer.
Now, Reuters reports, 28-year-old Jonathan Strobel of Boca Raton, Florida, has filed what may be the first lawsuit in the US involving the Note 7’s combustible battery.
Strobel’s suit, filed Friday, says his Note 7 exploded in his front pants pocket on September 9. This allegedly happened in a Costco in Palm Beach Gardens, where Strobel works.
“His right thigh has a deep second-degree burn the size of the phone,” Keith Pierro, Strobel’s lawyer, told me, adding that Strobel’s left hand was also burnt. (He apparently reached for his overheating phone with his opposite hand.)
The Palm Beach Post reported that Palm Beach Gardens Fire Rescue described the phone as having melted inside Strobel’s pants.
The complaint says that Strobel suffered “sustained serious and permanent bodily injuries resulting in pain and suffering, permanent impairment, disability, mental anguish, inconvenience, loss of the enjoyment of life, expense of medical care and treatment, expense of hospitalization, lost wages, and ability to earn wages in the past and to be experienced in the future.”
Pierro says Samsung could have taken swift action to protect customers but chose not to.
The Korean company had announced a self-initiated recall on September 2, a week before the incident mentioned in Strobel’s suit, saying Samsung would voluntarily replace customers’ Note 7 devices.
Samsung’s initial decision didn’t please Consumer Reports, which said the company should have worked with the US Consumer Product Safety Commission on an official recall.
It was only later, on the same day as the incident alleged in Strobel’s suit, that Samsung and the CPSC started working together. The commission and the company finally announced that users should immediately stop using or charging the Note 7.
Pierro told me that there was an ultimate irony. He said that Strobel received an email from Samsung telling him to power down the phone. It arrived, he said, 10 hours after the phone exploded.
“Samsung controls the information and failed to make a mandatory recall in time,” Pierro said.
A Samsung spokeswoman said the company is aware of Strobel’s incident but that it doesn’t comment on pending litigation.
Some might wonder whether Strobel had heard about Samsung’s first, self-initiated recall. It received heavy coverage in the press when it was announced. Some customers, though, have criticized Samsung for not contacting them personally right away.
On September 4, Tham Hui, from Melbourne, Australia, said his Note 7 caused $1,400 worth of damage to his hotel room when it exploded while charging.
“You’d think,” he said at the time, “they’d contact people [who] bought directly from Samsung to return their Note 7.”
Reaching every customer likely would have been difficult. After all, not all Note 7s were bought from Samsung. Getting to all customers would likely require working with retailers, carriers and other partners.
It’s unclear when Samsung began to email customers and the company didn’t respond to a request for comment on the issue.
Still, given reports of the exploding phones, it might have been prudent for Samsung to figure out a way to warn customers as soon as possible.
Now, the situation, like the phones, is blowing up.