Samsung’s Note 7 Battery Defect Announcement Reveals Multiple Problems Caused Fires

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The Note 7 battery glitch put a damper on Samsung’s booming smartphone sales. However, while many media commentators focus on the damage to the bottom line that these battery defects caused, the focus should be on the dangers associated with lithium-ion batteries. That is, while manufacturers can take steps to make these batteries “safer,” their chemistry is inherently volatile. Small, imperceptible defects in the battery or its housing can result in a fire or an explosion. Since cell phones are frequently in one’s pocket or pressed against the side of one’s face, any fire or explosion risk is clearly a concern. Furthermore, lithium battery fires can also spread to a surrounding structure like a home or a car endangering the safety of all occupants. Our Philadelphia product liability attorneys explain.

Samsung Announces Multiple Defects that Contributed to Lithium Battery Fires  

On Sunday, January 22, 2017, Samsung released a report detailing the causes behind the battery fires that plagued its Note 7 device. The announcement was the product of a Battery Advisory Group comprised industry professionals and researchers including:  

  • Clare Grey, Ph.D., Professor of Chemistry, University of Cambridge 
  • Gerbrand Ceder, Ph.D., Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, UC Berkeley 
  • Yi Cui, Ph.D., Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, Stanford University 
  • Toru Amazutsumi, Ph.D., CEO, Amaz Techno-consultant

The report produced by the group concludes that two separate defects affected Note 7 devices.  

The first defect is a design defect. This defect was caused by phone body casing that did not fit properly. The phone casing apparently did not leave enough room in the upper-right corner of the device. The lack of ample clearance for the battery apparently led to crimping in the battery cell’s upper right-hand corner. The crimping caused the layers of the battery – normally separated by thin layers of insulators – to come into contact and spark the fires. This defect is blamed for the initial round of fires that spurred changes in the phone. 

Samsung did address this design defect. Furthermore, to allay concerns regarding the safety itself, Samsung contracted with other third-party battery manufacturers to supply the batteries in replacement devices. Unfortunately, the decision to utilize different battery manufactures resulted in the second defect that ultimately resulted in the termination of the Note 7 device.  

This second defect involved an array of battery manufacturing problems. Apparently, due to deadlines for supplying replacement batteries, certain steps in the process and quality control processes failed. For one, the company identified that inadequate welding by the battery manufacturers contributed to many of the fires caused by the secondary defect.  

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Samsung Note 7 Battery Recall Illustrates Different Kinds of Product Defects  

When a person is injured by a dangerous and defective product, there are generally three theories that they can pursue. The theories are generally that a product was defectively manufactured, designed, or marketed. The Samsung battery defect situation clearly illustrates two of the three types of defects. It also shines a light on the fact that, perhaps, companies selling devices containing lithium batteries need to provide additional warnings to avoid marketing defects.  

 First, an injured party can allege that the way the product was designed made it unsafe for consumers. This means that the product was built or manufactured exactly as the designer intended, but mistakes or issues in the design process introduced safety hazards. Here, the case for the phone was manufactured exactly as was intended. The problem was the design did not permit for ample space for the battery.  

Second, an injured person can allege that a product was defectively manufactured. A manufacturing defect means that some deviation from the plans or blueprints was introduced during the manufacturing phase. This change or defect renders the product dangerous or deadly. Here, a failure to sufficiently weld a product is a clear error in the manufacturing process and thus a manufacturing defect.  

Finally, marketing defects can proceed under a number of theories but they generally involve a company’s failure to provide adequate instructions, warnings, or information regarding the foreseeable use or misuse of the product. In the context of a lithium-ion battery and the fires it can produce, perhaps it would be prudent for companies to recommend against charging devices overnight or indefinitely. Even when a defect is not present, lithium batteries are consumables in which the chemistry will begin to degrade and break down over time. Furthermore, while battery fires are possible at any time, they are more likely to occur when the battery is under high load or near its maximum capacity. A person who is sleeping cannot perceive that a battery is smoking, smoldering, or on fire. Companies making use of lithium battery products may need to warn regarding this potential hidden danger.  

Injured by a Lithium Battery Fire and Seeking A Philadelphia Product Liability Lawyer?

Lithium batteries are found in an increasing number of products. These batteries power laptops, cell phones, tablets, e-cigarettes, vapor sticks, drones, and many other electronic gadgets. In many cases, these batteries are used in close proximately to one’s face and body. 

If a battery fire has resulted in a serious injury to a loved one, the Pennsylvania exploding lithium-ion battery burn injury lawyers of The Reiff Law Firm may be able to fight for compensation for you. We may be able to work diligently and strategically to obtain compensation to cover your medical bills, lost wage, pain and suffering, property damage, and other consequential damages. To schedule a free and confidential initial consultation, please call our law firm at (215) 246-9000.   

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