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29 March 2014

Fitbit Faces a Class-Action Suit in Rash Fallout

The Fitbit Force is displayed in the Fitbit booth at the
2014 International CES in Las Vegas.  (Getty Images)
The lead attorney for the class-action suit is asking for "full disclosure of the dangerous aspects of the product and a full disclosure of why it’s causing injuries" (irritations on wrists, ranging from red patches to festering blisters, where the Fitbit Force touched the skin).  The digital bracelet measures people’s activity and sleep patterns.

Fitbit Now Faces a Class-Action Suit in Rash Fallout
by Kathering Rosman, Wall Street Journal
19 March 2014

A month after Fitbit issued a recall of its fitness-tracking bracelet following complaints of blisters and rashes, the startup now faces its first lawsuit.

The suit, filed on Monday in the Superior Court of California in the County of San Diego, is seeking class-action status and alleges the company misled consumers in promoting and advertising the Fitbit Force device.

The suit calls for Fitbit to notify every person who has bought the Fitbit Force device in the state of California, and to arrange to refund the $130 cost of the device, plus tax and any shipping fees. It also calls for Fitbit to provide a full disclosure of the cause of the wrist irritations.

The case has been filed by John Fiske, head of the mass torts practice at the Gomez Firm in San Diego. Jim Spivey, a 49-year-old aviation teacher, is the lead plaintiff representing the class. A Fitbit spokeswoman said the company didn’t have immediate comment.

Fitbit in October released the Force, a digital bracelet that measures people’s activity and sleep patterns. Before the end of the year, some Force consumers began to complain they were developing irritations on their wrists where the Force touched their skin. The symptoms ranged from red patches to festering blisters. Some of the afflicted consumers sought medical attention and received prescription ointment to treat the reaction.

In a Jan. 14 post on the company’s website, Fitbit Chief Executive James Park said the cause of the irritations was most likely an allergic reaction to nickel, a component of the Force which is also found in many everyday consumer products. The company began to offer refunds for dissatisfied customers. As complaints mounted, Mr. Park released a statement on Feb. 14 asserting that the company’s continued investigation pointed to “allergic contact dermatitis.” A week later, the company announced it was halting sales of the Force and issuing a voluntary recall of the product.

At the time of the recall, Fitbit reported to the Consumer Product Safety Commission that it was aware of about 9,900 cases of consumers having a skin reaction after wearing the Force. The CPSC says there are one million units subject to the recall.

In the February recall announcement, Mr. Park said that 1.7% of Force users had reported an irritation. Mr. Park also said the company is working on a “next-generation tracker and will announce news about it soon.”

Mr. Spivey bought his Fitbit Force in January and only learned of the problems associated with the wristband when looking on the Fitbit site for information about the product’s features. He has not developed a skin irritation. He contacted attorneys and agreed to front a class-action suit because he believes the burden of alerting consumers to the recall should be upon Fitbit. “I have a concern that there is still a risk of developing an injury for me and others,” he says.

“We are asking for full disclosure of the dangerous aspects of the product and a full disclosure of why it’s causing these injuries,” says Mr. Fiske, the class action’s lead attorney. Beginning today, Mr. Fiske is also filing suits seeking damages on behalf of consumers afflicted with the Fitbit Force rash.

Other law firms also are planning legal action related to the Fitbit Force. “We have fielded hundreds of calls on this,” says Matt Schelkopf, a partner with the Haverford, Pa., law firm Chimicles & Tikellis which specializes in class action suits. Mr. Schelkopf says he has not yet filed any suits but intends to.

Fitbit was founded in 2007 and is backed by a number of venture-capital firms, including Foundry Group and True Ventures, which last year invested $43 million.


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