Written by David Castellon
A Fresno man is the latest plaintiff in a series of lawsuits against cell phone giant Apple, Inc. and some of its vendors after his iPhone 6 reportedly ignited and injured him.
The lawsuit was filed Oct. 11 by lawyers representing Nwabueze Umeh in Fresno County Superior Court, seeking actual and punitive damages for injuries and mental anguish suffered when the phone exploded on May 20.
Also named as a defendant is Airtouch Cellular, Inc., which reportedly sold Umeh the phone.
His lawsuit is the latest of five lawsuits filed by Gustafson Nicolai, pc, a Los Angeles-based law firm representing people around the country whom they say were injured when their older-model iPhones ignite.
Three of the other plaintiffs are adults from Harvest, Ala.; Prussia, Pa.; and Manhattan Beach, Calif., along with a minor from Pineville, La.
All the lawsuits are spotty on details of what happened, other than saying that the phones ignited near four plaintiffs and in the right pocket of the man from Manhattan Beach.
His case was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, while the cases for out-of-state plaintiffs were filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court, in the same county where Apple’s Cupertino headquarters is located.
As for the injuries, none of the lawsuits give specifics, instead offering same broad statements claiming that the plaintiffs suffered “multiple injuries, both internal and external,” including severe burns, severe aches, pains, mental anxiety anguish and severe shock to nervous systems.
Neither Umeh or his lawyers could be reached immediately for comment, but in the lawsuit they claim general negligence against Apple for manufacturing and not having adequate safeguards to prevent the distribution of a defective and hazardous product, as well as failing to initiate a timely recall.
Apple officials didn’t immediately respond to inquiries about the lawsuit by The Business Journal.
The other defendants include some of the country’s top smart phone vendors — AT&T Corp. and Verizon Communications, Inc. — which reportedly sold phones to some of the plaintiffs.
The iPhone 6 became available in the U.S. market in Sept. 2015. The lawsuits claim two of the phones exploded in March and April of this year, while the other three exploded in May.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs didn’t specify how long they had owned the phones.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for the plaintiffs’ injuries, lost work, medical expenses and mental anguish, as well as punitive damages.
Last year, several Samsung Galaxy Note 7 smart phones exploded or caught fire, including some occurring on airplanes, which prompted the Federal Aviation Administration to ban them on U.S. flights.
The incidents were so frequent and widely reported that Samsung recalled 2.5 million Galaxy Note 7s and later attributed the problem to irregular-sized batteries overheating, along with manufacturing problems.
And while there have been several news reports of of problem with some of Apple’s newest-model iPhone 8s smoking or having their batteries swell, there have been few reports of such problems or explosions involving the iPhone 6 models.
The most notable incident reportedly involved a phone filmed by a security camera as it exploded in an Australian repair shop, and the video was posted online.
A description included with the video — which had nearly 478,000 views on YouTube — states that the phone’s owner was handling it and “The battery failed and exploded. Initial force of the explosion caused the screen to come off the phone. Our staff extinguished the phone with a fire extinguisher. We had to evacuate the store due to fumes and could not open for the rest of the day. Draw your own conclusions, but imagine if this happened five minutes earlier when the guy was driving to the shop and not in the shop.”
And in December, the Shanghai Consumer Council, a consumer watchdog group in China, reported that it had reports of eight iPhone 6 devices spontaneously combusting in that country.
Reuters reported that in response to the report, Apple emailed the news agency a brief response stating, “The units we’ve analyzed so far have clearly shown that external physical damage happened to them which led to the thermal event.”