Hot Devices – Smartphone Catches Fire And Causes Car Crash

On October 15, plaintiff Robert Wolfe filed a complaint (Robert Wolfe v. Motorola Mobility, LLC 2:19-cv-00972-CG-SMV) against Motorola for a cellphone battery fire that led to an ensuing motor vehicle crash on September 24, 2018. Wolfe’s Moto E5 Plus smartphone overheated, caught on fire and burned him, which led Wolfe to leave his lane and collide with a large tractor pulling a trailer moving in the opposite direction. Wolfe suffered 2nd and 3rd degree burns on his hips and 1st degree burns on his hand; he was also injured from the car crash. Wolfe’s serious injuries caused him to receive emergency treatment. The severe burns left him in critical condition and he had to undergo multiple surgeries.

Before the crash, the phone was deemed defective; however, Motorola did not warn that the phone was defective by issuing a recall. Instead, Motorola continued to sell the smartphone. Post-marketing reports indicate that the Moto E5 Plus overheating and catching fire are widespread and known. Motorola did not do anything to fix this and prevent injuries.

Motorola’s support page provides information about a hot device, an indication of their knowledge that devices could get hot. This is not the first device to catch fire. The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 was notorious for catching on fire. However, Samsung issued a recall for its smartphone, unlike Motorola. A separate incident involving a Samsung Galaxy Note 9 allegedly exploding in a woman’s purse occurred two years later.

Wolfe’s suit claims Motorola is responsible for its defective product since there was a safer and feasible alternative and Motorola did nothing to fix these issues. Motorola breached an implied warranty because a consumer would not expect his or her phone to catch fire during normal day-to-day usage.  

Motorola is not the only company to face these kinds of suits. Samsung consumers who filed a suit against the company for its phones catching fire were told they would face difficulty because of an arbitration clause.

A complaint filed against Samsung after a woman’s Samsung Galaxy Note 9 caught fire in her purse and Wolfe’s complaint after his phone caught fire while he was driving illustrates the impact of these fires on unsuspecting consumers in everyday circumstances, as well as the physical harm to consumers.