Still Wear A Fitbit? Class Action Lawsuits Involve Skin Burns and More
By B.N. Frank
Manufacturers of wireless devices are required to provide consumers with warnings about biologically harmful radiation emissions. Nevertheless, some Americans have sued Apple alleging the company did not adequately warn them about radiation exposure risks from its iPhones (see 1, 2). Of course, the company has warned in the past and again recently that all of its wireless products – including its watches – could interfere with pacemakers and other medical implants. Additionally, warnings have been issued about other wireless watches – including Fitbits – causing interference issues with medical implants too. In fact, there have been numerous class action lawsuits filed against Fitbit for various issues associated with its trackers, including burns.
From Lawyer Inc.:
The 10 Biggest Fitbit Lawsuits in Company History
In 2007, James Park and Eric Friedman realized that if they paired sensors with small devices like a watch, they could transform an idea into a successful business. The first fitness tracker, Fitbit, was launched in 2009. But like any multimillion-dollar business, things will go wrong from time to time, and lawsuits start to come trickling down. How many lawsuits have been filed against Fitbit, you ask? Since the launch of its first product, Fitbit has faced numerous class action lawsuits. From being accused of stealing patents and confidential data to people claiming that their watches cause severe burns, do not accurately monitor their heartbeats, and their sleep tracker doesn’t work. They have lost some lawsuits and won others, but one clear thing is that the lawsuits will not stop anytime soon. We compiled a list of 10 lawsuits Fitbit has faced since its launch.
10. Valencell, Inc. vs. Fitbit, Patent Infringement
Valencell is a company that makes biometric sensors for different wearables. It makes the heart rate sensor technology called PerformTek. Over the years, Philis has licensed PerformTek to various companies like Sony, L.G., and Jabra. In 2016, Valencell sued Fitbit, claiming that the Fitbit Charge H.R. and Surge heart rate sensor devices used PerformTeks technology without proper patent licensing from Valencell. Valencell sought damages and permanent bans preventing Fitbit from using its technology in the future without proper licensing.
Fitbit’s spokesperson vehemently denied any claims made by Valencell, saying that Fitbit had independently developed and delivered innovative products in the industry and that Fitbit had more than 200 issued patents and patent applications in this field. In February 2019, The Federal Circuit judge upheld decisions from the Patent Trial and Appeal Board by invalidating claims that Fitbit had infringed on three Valencell patents covering Biometric technology.
9. Fitbit Cracked Display Screen Class Action Lawsuit, Hillary Schneider vs. Fitbit Inc.
Do you ever get this overwhelming urge to sue your phone company whenever your screen cracks? Well, Hillary Schneider had enough of it when the screen of her $150 Fitbit Charge 2 suddenly broke just a few months after purchase. In 2019 she filed a class action suit that claimed that the Fitbit Charge 2 fitness devices were susceptible to cracked screens, but Fitbit was unwilling to repair or refund users who had experienced the flaw. According to Top class actions, in the Lawsuit, Hillary Schneider claimed to have contacted Fitbit and tried to get them to repair her screen or refund her, but Fitbit only offered her a 25 percent discount on a new Fitbit band.
Schneider claimed that when Fitbit refused to repair or refund her, they went against their warranty claims upon purchase. The class action also alleged that when the Fitbit Charge 2 screen cracked, its “Tap-sensitive display” stopped working correctly. The suit also gave a few examples of people complaining about their Fitbits cracking out of the blue. Their Fitbits cracked without any impact on the device or being dropped. Fortunately for Fitbit, In June 2019, a California federal judge dismissed the Fitbit Cracked Display Screen Class Action Lawsuit.
8. Fitbit Band Defect Class Action Lawsuit, Willis vs. Fitbit, Inc.
Have you ever lost a valuable watch or bracelet because the cuffs broke and the watch or bracelet fell off, never to be seen again? Baron Willis sued Fitbit in 2019 for this reason. Baron Willis filed a class action lawsuit against Fitbit, stating that Fitbit devices had a defective band that made them pop off the users’ wrists regularly. Willis claimed that when he first bought a Fitbit Flex in California, he wore it as intended, but after a while, the band broke off the device, making it fall from its wrist. A few days later, Willis took his Fitbit Flex to the same shop he purchased it from, and they replaced it with the Fitbit Charge.
According to the lawsuit, the band started to separate from the device soon after Willis started wearing the Fitbit Charge. About a year later, he replaced the Fitbit Charge with a Fitbit Charge H.R. and later a Fitbit Blaze but continued to experience the same problem with all of them. The Fitbit band defect lawsuit claims that Fitbit’s advertisement of its products as wearable and having superior and leading technology, including its tracking monitor and wrist bands, is false advertising. In January 2020, a federal judge sent this lawsuit to arbitration.
7. Patent Infringement, Philips North America LLC vs. Fitbit
In another patent infringement lawsuit, Philip North America, a company making connected health technologies, accused Fitbit of allegedly infringing on three patents. The three patents concerned technology used in developing connected health products. According to Casetext, the infringed patents included;
- The ‘007 patent titled “Athlete’s GPS-Based Performance Monitor.”
- The ‘233 patent titled “Personal Medical Device Communication System and Method.”
- The ‘377 patent titled “Method and Apparatus for Monitoring Exercise and Wireless Internet Connectivity.”
Philips claimed that Fitbit had released its first product without any patent application and that it used Philips technology to create this product. Philips said that it gives licenses to healthcare companies that want to make their heart rate monitors, and even though they have tried to license the patents mentioned in the suit to Fitbit, they have consistently declined the offer. They claim that Fitbit makes money from Philips’s patented technologies but don’t want to pay the price.
6. The Fitbit Force Recall that led to a Class Action Lawsuit, Spivey vs. Fitbit Inc.
In February of 2014, Fitbit recalled one of its devices, the Fitbit Force, because of complaints that it caused skin rashes and irritations in some users. According to Reuters, while announcing the recall, Fitbit said that they had conducted tests on the force and that it caused allergic contact dermatitis to some of its users when it touched their skin. Fitbit also said that those affected might be allergic to nickel used in the Fitbit Force device. This recall would then inspire a class action lawsuit from a San Diego law firm. The lawsuit claimed Fitbit had misled customers by advertising its safety to users in the shower or even sleeping. The lawsuit sought for Fitbit to pay damages and widely publicize each product’s risk. The plaintiff said that Fitbit needed to be held accountable for misleading customers about the safety of its product.
5. False Advertising, Fitbits Inaccurate Sleep Tracker, Brickman vs. Fitbit Inc.
In 2015, a class action lawsuit was filed, yet again, against Fitbit. This time, James P. Brickman, the plaintiff, claimed that Fitbit had falsely advertised that their devices contained an accurate sleep tracking function. He claimed that on their website, Fitbit advertised that these sleep tracking devices could measure one’s sleep quality by tracking how long one slept and how many times one woke up. James Brickman claimed that when he paid $99 for a Fitbit Flex Device, he expected to get a device he could rely on to track his sleep accurately.
The Fitbit device, however, did not work as advertised, and it would sometimes overestimate his sleep by over an hour. The class action lawsuit said that Fitbit had overstated the ability of the sleep tracking function and that consumers who paid extra for the sleep tracking function did not receive the value of the function. In 2020, everyone who had filed a claim for this class action suit against Fitbit started to receive checks worth $12.50.
4. Stolen Trade Secrets, Aliphcom vs. Fitbit Inc.
Jawbone, just like Fitbit, is a company in the wearable technology industry. In 2015, Aliphcom, Jawbone’s parent company filed a lawsuit against Fitbit, claiming patent infringements and stolen trade secrets when Fitbit poached some of its former employees. In the lawsuit, Jawbone claimed that Fitbit gained access to some trade secrets after Fitbit had hired some of its employees.
It claimed that the ex-employees had sent some critical data to Fitbit like the Jawbones product roadmap, designs of its circuit boards, product schedules, and even negotiated prices with its manufacturers. Fitbit, however, said it never gained access to any of the data in question nor used it for any Fitbit products. A federal judge ruled in favor of Fitbit in 2016. According to Wareable, the judge stated that “no party has been shown to have misappropriated any trade secret.”
3. Inaccurate Heart Monitor Class Action Lawsuit, McLellan vs. Fitbit Inc.
Fitbit faced another class action lawsuit in January 2016 that alleged that the heart rate monitoring in two of its devices was off by a substantial margin. The Fitbit Charge H.R. and the Fitbit Surge were both advertised by Fitbit as accurate heart rate monitors. Because of those advertisement claims, these two Fitbit products were a hit, especially among the fitness community. But contrary to the Fitbits advertisement, the plaintiffs claimed that the products did not count every heartbeat.
According to Top Class Action Suits, Kate McLellan claimed that while training, her trainer had measured her heart rate at 160 bpm while her Fitbit only recorded her heart rate at 82 bpm. Another person said they had purchased their Fitbit under their doctors’ advice to ensure their heart rate never exceeded 160 bpm while training. But after checking it consistently, his Fitbit never displayed a more than 125 bpm recording. It always under-recorded his heart rate. Despite Fitbit’s attempts to get a judge to compel arbitration in the class action suit in 2017, a federal judge in California decided to allow the majority of claims in a class action suit that alleged that Fitbit devices gave inaccurate heart rate readings contrary to its advertisement.
2. Fitbug vs. Fitbit, who Stole from who?
Fitbug, a U.K.-based online activity tracker and wellness company, was founded in 2005. It was among the first companies to use activity tracking devices and mobile and internet technology to give its users tailored physical activities, diet suggestions, and advice on reaching their targets. They began operations using the trademark FITBUG in the U.S. in 2005, while Fitbit was founded four years later, in 2007. Fitbug claimed that Fitbit created a similar product logo and their mark on Fitbugs’ identical goods caused much confusion to their customers. They sued Fitbit in March 2013, alleging trademark infringement, unfair completion, and unfair business practices.
Fitbug gave evidence of this confusion by presenting documents of customers calling and emailing Fitbug seeking help with their Fitbit watches, some social sites confusing the products in their reports, and even potential Fitbit business partners contacting Fitbug by mistake. However, in February 2015, Fitbit won this trademark infringement lawsuit against Fitbug. The most significant factor contributing to Fitbugs’ loss in the lawsuit is that they waited four and a half years before filing their complaint. “In this case, the court finds that Fitbug knew or should have known of the likelihood of confusion by, at the latest, September 2008 after Fitbits Launch,” wrote the judge.
1. Fitbit Burns Wrists Instead of Calories, Houtchens vs. Google LLC.
Imagine how disappointed and utterly furious you would be if you bought a Fitbit to help burn calories, but it burned you instead. That is what a lawsuit claimed the Fitbit products did the consumers. The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and Google recalled over 1.7 million Fitbit Ionic Smartwatches in march 2022. Fitbit recalled these watches due to 78 reports of burn injuries in the U.S., which included two third-degree burns and four second-degree burns reports. The Fitbit Ionic was recalled because of its faulty batteries overheating and burning a user’s skin.
According to Business Insider, the lawsuit claimed that recalling just the Fitbit Ionic was insufficient because the burns are consistent with the entire range of Fitbit products. Companies often share components in most of their products, so it would not be surprising if Fitbits smartwatches share defective batteries across their models. The two women in the lawsuit will represent all other burned Fitbit users. In the lawsuit, one was burned by her Fitbit Versa 2, while the Fitbit Versa Light burned the other lady. The lawsuit also outlines many examples of online reports by users wearing other models like the Fitbit Versa and the Fitbit Sense when they were burned. If you go through the @fitbitsupport Twitter handle, you will see many reports and pictures of failing batteries, melted chargers, and burned wrists.
Having spent 16 years as a personal injury lawyer, Joey eventually decided that writing about the law was more fun than practicing it. Now he enjoys focusing on the latest news about the law, changes in policy, significant lawsuits, and the future of how law is shaped in the United States.
Activist Post reports regularly about wireless wearables and other privacy invasive and unsafe technologies. For more information, visit our archives and the following websites:
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