The glass encasing the back camera module of Samsung’s top-of-the-line Galaxy S20, S20+, S20 FE and S20 Ultra smartphones can shatter suddenly under normal use—and without external pressure—and render the multi-lens camera unusable, a proposed class action claims.
The 107-page lawsuit says the so-called “shattering defect” became apparent just days after the March 2020 release of the “camera-focused” Galaxy S20, when a consumer reported online that their camera glass, which encases multiple lenses, had shattered while in their pocket. As of the date of the suit’s filing, “countless” complaints have been posted to Samsung’s community website and elsewhere online about the spontaneous shattering defect, the case says, stressing that the Galaxy S20’s camera functionality was a critically important selling point for the devices.
According to the case filed in New Jersey federal court, the shattering issue is a “known defect” that has also plagued previous Samsung smartphone models, including the Galaxy S7, S7 Edge and S7 Active smartphones, which were the subject of a class action lawsuit filed in Wisconsin in January 2017 and dismissed in October 2019. When the defect manifests, a tell-tale “bullet hole” pattern usually appears, according to images included in the complaint:
The plaintiffs, Galaxy S20 owners from South Carolina, Washington, Ohio, Virginia and New York, allege Samsung, despite receiving a vast number of complaints about the issue, has “consistently denied responsibility” for the problem and instead shifted the blame onto consumers while “refusing” to repair the devices or offer refunds. The plaintiffs say Samsung has sometimes charged “an exorbitant amount of money” for consumers to send back a defective Galaxy S20, with some buyers claiming they were told by the company that they had voided their warranty by reporting the problem.
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“Samsung only recently admitted that a pattern of complaints exists and that the issue is not the consumer’s fault,” the complaint reads. “Yet Samsung has not recalled the phone and continues to deny warranty claims.”
Compounding Samsung Galaxy S20 owners’ frustrations, the lawsuit says, is the fact that the defendant released the phone at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic as the nation shouldered lockdowns, social distancing and job losses. Those who paid an “exorbitant price” for the Galaxy S20 expecting a professional-grade camera experience, “and perhaps more for a protective case,” have been left with a smartphone whose camera functionality has been diminished or disabled “just at the time they needed it the most,” according to the case.
Moreover, the pandemic has caused Galaxy S20 buyers to hit roadblocks in securing repairs and replacements as they have been limited in how and when they can bring their devices into brick-and-mortar stores and face a shortage in available stock.
Given its representations that the Galaxy S20, which retails for up to $1,600, was equipped with a high-quality, professional camera, Samsung, the case contends, was obligated to disclose that “the exact opposite was true,” namely that its newest smartphones were hampered by a known hardware defect that manifests “immediately upon use.” Allegedly, the defect can render the camera unusable and limit the phone’s overall functionality. Moreover, the lawsuit says some Samsung Galaxy S20 buyers, including one of the plaintiffs, have been injured as a result of the glass-shattering defect.
“No Plaintiff or reasonable consumer would have purchased or leased these smartphones and/or paid the price they paid for these smartphones had they known of the glass shattering defect,” the complaint says. “Samsung omitted information about this material defect and has completely failed its customers by continuing its pattern of putting profits over safety.”
Samsung Galaxy S20 Smartphones Are “Unreasonably Fragile,” Lawsuit Says
According to the lawsuit, Samsung’s Galaxy S20 and S20 Ultra devices are encased in purportedly damage- and scratch-resistant “Gorilla Glass.” Per the suit, the Galaxy S20 and S20 FE have three back camera lenses while the S20 Ultra has an even larger back camera module with an additional lens. The Galaxy S20 devices were marketed by Samsung as having high-resolution, professional-grade cameras, with the S20 Ultra capable of capturing ultra-wide, wide-angle, telephoto and DepthVision shots with its four lenses. The video quality of the devices’ cameras was also prominently included in Samsung’s marketing of the smartphones, the lawsuit says.
Within days of the Galaxy S20’s release last year, however, consumers began to post complaints about the glass module shattering, the case says. Per the suit, this breakage, in addition to diminishing the phones’ overall value and utility, harms the camera’s ability to take high-quality photos and videos.
Sharing blame for the apparent glass-shattering defect is Samsung’s use of “Gorilla Glass,” manufactured by non-party Corning, for the “unreasonably fragile” Galaxy S20, the lawsuit claims. According to the complaint, Gorilla Glass covers the back, outward-facing camera lens and is prone to shattering spontaneously during normal use and without the application of any external force. The glass can also shatter even if a consumer’s phone is housed within a protective case, the suit says.
Although Gorilla Glass is designed to be strong and has weathered several drop tests without the kind of shattering that apparently plagues the Galaxy S20, the lawsuit says that Samsung’s move “away from conventional glass, towards supposedly stronger glass created through the use of heating glass to high temperatures,” has led to incidents of spontaneous glass breakage.
Samsung’s Response, Alleged Knowledge of Glass-Shattering Problem
The lawsuit stresses that a similar glass-shattering issue plagued Samsung’s Galaxy S7 smartphone, for which customers also posted stories online of their camera lenses spontaneously shattering. Per the case, Samsung eventually acknowledged the “unexplained issue” but stopped short of providing a solution and dismissed the shattering reports as isolated incidents.
Samsung has been aware and possessed exclusive knowledge of the camera-protecting glass screens’ propensity to shatter since at least 2016, in part due to repair records, online complaints, blogs monitored by the company, and industry sources, the complaint alleges.
As far as user complaints go, Samsung, the suit claims, has had a “dismal” response to the apparently widespread issue. The suit goes so far as to allege Samsung has deleted consumer complaints, including an open letter to the company about the camera glass problem, and responded to one complaint with the claim that camera glass breakage was caused by “pressure buildup beneath the glass.”
Despite its acknowledgement of the Galaxy S20 glass-shattering issue, Samsung has failed to initiate a recall, is denying warranty claims, and has otherwise offered “no meaningful solution to the issue,” the lawsuit says. Worse for consumers, Samsung has allegedly charged a premium price to merely look into the glass-shattering defect if the individual has not paid for the company’s warranty program, the complaint claims:
Samsung reportedly requires that a consumer pay $400.00 to send the phone back to investigate the issue if the consumer did not pay purchase [sic] ‘Samsung care,’ and even consumers who paid extra for this product protection plan are required to pay $100.00 to return their phones.
For consumers in the best of times, this is cost-prohibitive, and certainly more so during a pandemic.”
Those who’ve paid to send their phone to Samsung have often received in return “another defective S20,” the suit alleges, claiming that restrictions in replacement stock and the amount of time the defendant will keep a consumer’s phone have added to proposed class members’ headaches.
“Consumers are left with a broken phone that is greatly reduced in value, with an unusable camera, or one with just partial functionality,” the lawsuit says.
Case claims arbitration terms and conditions were “hidden” from Galaxy S20 buyers
According to the lawsuit, Samsung “publicly indicates” that the box for the Galaxy S20 does not contain any terms and conditions. The suit says the defendant’s “quick start” guide to setting up the smartphones, which is also available for download online, also contains “no terms and conditions whatsoever.”
The plaintiffs allege, though, that Samsung has attempted to “actively hide” its terms and conditions from buyers.
The case, highlighting the fact that the company used to keep its terms and conditions in a guidebook that came with its smartphones, alleges Samsung has intentionally removed any mention of terms and conditions from the product boxes and any materials contained therein.
When comparing product packaging from before and after prior litigation surrounding Samsung’s Galaxy S7 smartphone, it appears the company “has kept the tiny font reference to terms and conditions on the bottom of the box … and added the words ‘including Arbitration Agreement’ to the previous reference to terms and conditions on the bottom of the box,” the lawsuit says.
As the lawsuit tells it, Samsung’s mention of an arbitration provision on only the bottom of the product boxes is not sufficient to adequately inform buyers that they’re signing away their rights in the event of a dispute [emphasis ours]:
By Samsung’s design, Plaintiffs and Class members did not have, and would not have had, the opportunity to have known of any supposed arbitration agreement due to the inconspicuous nature of Samsung’s reference to a supposed arbitration agreement, and Samsung’s indication to consumers that there are no terms and conditions within its box Samsung provided no indication and no explicit reference to consumers that there were supposed terms and conditions on the bottom of the S20 box. By Samsung’s design, in indicating there were no terms and conditions in its box, Samsung hid any supposed terms and conditions. Plaintiffs and Class members did not view, were not aware of, and did not manifest any consent to, and did not have reasonable notice of, any supposed arbitration terms, and as a result, any supposed arbitration terms are not enforceable, and should not be binding on Plaintiffs and the Class.”
Who’s covered by this lawsuit?
The lawsuit looks to cover all persons or entities in the United States who bought or leased one or more Samsung Galaxy S20, Galaxy S20 FE or Galaxy S20 Ultra smartphones.
The case also looks to cover “subclasses” of consumers and entities in New York, Ohio, South Carolina, Virginia and Washington who fit the same criteria.
How do I participate in the class action?
Generally speaking, there’s nothing you need to do to “join” or be considered “included” in a class action lawsuit. These types of lawsuits almost always take some time to work their way through the legal system, usually toward a settlement, dismissal or, in some instances, arbitration outside of court. This means it might be months or years before the time comes for those who might be considered a part of the “class” to submit claims for whatever compensation the court deems appropriate—and that’s only if a case ends in a settlement.
You can learn all about how class action lawsuits work here.
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