Samsung Sued Over Alleged Smartphone Defects

On Tuesday, consumers filed a class-action complaint against Samsung Electronics America Inc. in the District of New Jersey over alleged defects of the Samsung Galaxy S20, S20 Ultra, and S20 FE, which purportedly cause the smartphone’s cameras to shatter and break.

According to the complaint, in the first quarter of 2020, “Samsung captured 20% of the global smartphone market share. Samsung achieved this in great part by recognizing that a smartphone’s functionality as a camera is critically important to consumers.” In particular, in March 2020, the Samsung Galaxy S20 and S20 Ultra phones were released, and, in October 2020, the S20 FE was released. The plaintiffs noted that these phones “have a prominent back camera module that encases multiple camera lenses.” As a result, because these phones are marketed as “camera focused” and have multiple camera lenses, the phones can cost up to $1,600.

However, the plaintiffs averred, the “S20’s back camera module’s glass can shatter suddenly (‘the Shattered Defect’), under normal use, with no external force applied and render the camera unusable.” The plaintiffs proffered that the issue was apparent after a few days of the release of the phone when a consumer posted on Samsung’s community website about having something in their pocket that cracked the phone lens. Reportedly, approximately one month later, on Samsung’s community website, the topic “S20 Ultra camera crack” appeared; under this topic, multiple consumers posted about their experience. The plaintiffs contended that this shattering “is a known defect that has also plagued other previously released Samsung phone models. The shattering leaves behind a tell-tale ‘bullet hole’ pattern,” as shown below:

A photo of a broken camera, taken from the complaint.

The plaintiffs noted that, as of the complaint’s filing, there were more than 660 comments on just one post on Samsung’s community website on the topic, along with complaints posted on other social media platforms. Allegedly, a consumer also wrote to Samsung about this issue and asked the company to remedy this. According to the plaintiffs, this illustrates that a large number of consumers have experienced this defect.

Moreover, the plaintiffs averred that this defect for consumers “is compounded by the fact that Samsung released the phones just as the nation began to face pandemic lockdowns, social distancing, and job loss. Consumers who had paid an exorbitant price for a phone expecting a professional-grade camera experience (and perhaps more for a protective case) have been left with a device whose camera functionality has been diminished or disabled just at the time they needed it the most.”

The plaintiffs noted that, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers “are unable or significantly constrained in their ability to bring phones into brick-and-mortar stores for service and repair,” and there allegedly is a shortage of replacement parts. The plaintiffs asserted that this defect was avoidable because other Samsung phones, such as the Samsung Galaxy S7, S7 Edge, and S7 Active, had a similar defect. However, the plaintiffs argued that Samsung has “denied responsibility” and only recently admitted that these similar complaints exist not at the consumers’ fault, but it has not recalled these phones. The plaintiff contended that because Samsung represented to consumer that “the Galaxy S20 had a high-quality, professional-grade camera, Samsung was obligated to disclose that the exact opposite was true – that the phone had a known material defect in the hardware of the phone, independent of the phone’s software, that manifests immediately upon use and which can render the camera unusable or would limit its functionality and potentially cause physical harm as well.”

The lawsuit includes both a nationwide class and subclasses for five states.

The causes of action against Samsung are violations of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, New York General Business Law, Ohio Consumer Sales Practices Act, South Carolina Unfair Trade Practices Act, Virginia Consumer Protection Act, and Washington Consumer Protection Act, as well as fraud by concealment, breach of express warranty, and breach of implied warranty of merchantability.

The plaintiffs seek class and subclass certification and for the plaintiffs and their counsel to represent the class; to temporarily and permanently enjoins Samsung from this conduct; an injunction; the establishment of Samsung as a constructive trustee; an award for damages, costs and fees; restitution; rescission of all shattered products; and other relief.

The plaintiffs are represented by Carella, Byrne, Cecchi, Olstein, Brody & Agnello P.C., Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP, and Seeger Weiss LLP.