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Samsung launched its latest premium phone, the Galaxy Note 7 – featuring a waterproof body, large screen and high resolution camera – in late August 2016. Launched firstly in markets in the US, Asia and Middle East, the UK launch was set for 7th September. Some UK consumers got their hands on the phone in advance of that date, and meantime orders were made and hype surrounding the phone hailed as “the best phablet [phone + tablet] going”

But then a dramatic turnaround, just weeks after that would-be lucrative launch – Samsung announced it will “permanently discontinue” the phone’s production.

Jennifer Gilmour, Lawyer The reason? Alarming posts on the likes of social media and YouTube, suggesting phones supplied early on were spontaneously going on fire. This led Samsung to announce recall of those handsets. Their stated reason: “a battery cell issue”, without reference to whether the problem was confined to charging or could occur during normal use. At that stage 2.5 million handsets had been sold. By mid-September 2016, Samsung had allegedly received 92 reports of the batteries overheating in the US alone, including 26 reports of resulting burns and 55 of resulting property damage.

The announcement of a permanent halt to the phone’s production came amid damaging reports that even replacement handsets, issued to respondents to the initial recall, were setting themselves alight.

The potential consequences of a phone going on fire – having been left charging on a bedcover overnight, perhaps – conjure a terrifying image. Nonetheless, in an era in which we demand increasing functions from our handheld devices, yet expect them to remain “hand-held”, it is perhaps not so surprising that the result is the potential for fire. What is surprising is that a well-off, world-renowned company which stands to suffer significantly as a result of a publicised fault in its products, would allow a product to reach consumers without that fault being identified and resolved. That is especially the case when the parts used to make the eventual product are derived from different locations, markets and businesses, none of whom can know exactly what their part is going to be combined with.

Thankfully, reassurance is provided by recall of a handheld product in these circumstances being unprecedented; by the wake-up call this story is to manufacturers; and by the fact no-one has (reportedly) been seriously injured as a result of the faulty phones.

Nonetheless, the story is also a wake-up call to consumers, who may not previously have had cause to consider what they would do if their phone, or other household device, spontaneously caught fire.

In this regard, consumers in Scotland should be aware that, generally (subject to the particular terms in a mobile phone contract, which cannot by law be unduly restrictive):

  • Consumers buying products after 1st October 2015 are protected by the Consumer Rights Act 2015. 
    • In the case of mobile phones, that is the case regardless of whether the phone is purchased out-right or whether it is obtained subject to a ‘fixed sum loan agreement’ (the phone is yours from the outset despite the need to make contractual payments thereafter) or a ‘hire purchase agreement’ (the phone is ‘hired’ until full payment is made).
  • Products are expected to be, among other things: of satisfactory quality (s. 9), fit for their particular purposes (s. 10) and as they are described prior to sale (s. 11).
  • If they are not (for example if they catch fire), consumers are entitled: 
    • If the problem arises within 30 days of sale, to reject the product: they should make it available for return and are entitled to a refund (s. 20); or
    • To repair or replacement of the product (s. 23); or
    • Where the above options have been tried or have been impossible, to a proportionate reduction of the price paid (which may require a refund of money already paid), or to reject the product in favour of a refund (s. 24).
  • Where the defective product has led you to suffer financial loss beyond the cost of the product itself (for example damage to your property or business), seeking damages for breach of contract may be appropriate, and you should seek legal advice if so affected. This could be in addition to the legislative remedies set out above, provided you did not seek to recover the same loss more than once
  • Where the defective product has led you to suffer injury, whether or not in addition to other financial losses, you may be able to seek damages for personal injury. In terms of the 2015 legislation, traders are not allowed to contract out of any such liability (s. 65).

Public awareness of faulty products is important, and social media is clearly integral to achieving this; however, asserting your rights as set out above will go much further in helping you redress problems caused by a faulty product, than any YouTube video or Tweet will be able to.

If you have sustained injury due to a faulty phone you could be entitled to claim compensation, our personal injury solicitors will assess your claim and advise the best way to proceed.

Blog by Jennifer Gilmour, Personal Injury Lawyer

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