A formal recall by US safety regulators of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 smartphone due to serious fire and burn hazards should put users on notice to power down and stop using their devices immediately and return them for a free replacement or refund.
Samsung has received 92 reports of batteries overheating in the United States, including 26 reports of burns and 55 reports of property damage, including fires in cars and a garage.
In its warning, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) states:
“The lithium-ion battery in the Galaxy Note7 smartphones can overheat and catch fire, posing a serious burn hazard to consumers.”
The recall covers 1 million phones in the U.S., but some 2.5 million of the devices need to be recalled globally, Samsung said.
It follows a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) brief last week urging passengers not to use Samsung Galaxy Note 7 devices on planes, nor to stow them in their checked luggage.
As the Wall Street Journal reported, identifying a specific brand or model as a potential hazard is a highly unusual move for the FAA, though agency officials previously issued warnings about the overall dangers of checking any kind of cellphones, other battery-powers electronic devices or spare batteries in the holds of planes.
Following the FAA announcement, Samsung accelerated its massive recall.
The cost of the recall to Samsung have been estimated at about $1 billion, but the costs in terms of the hit to market value, tarnished brand and reputation, and lost revenues, as well as opportunity cost could be much higher, as Forbes reports. (Note: Apple’s new iPhone 7 goes on sale today)
From the insurance perspective, the story does underscore broader concerns over increased fire risks from lithium-ion batteries.
As this National Fire Protection Association blog post explains:
“Rechargeable lithium batteries overheat more than any other type of batteries and tend to have manufacturing defects. They are also very poorly regulated. The low weight batteries house substantial energy and fit into smaller devices, but have been causing fire safety issues in smart phones, tablets, hover boards and other emerging tech devices that are popular with the buying public.”
The homeowners line of business saw the majority of fire losses in 2014, according to Insurance Information Institute facts and statistics on fire losses here.
The risks of lithium batteries are also on the radar of commercial insurers. FM Global has partnered with fire protection groups to research the fire hazards of lithium-ion batteries in warehouse storage and cargo containers, for example.