People think their smartphones are safe; they let their infant children play with them, they carry them in their pockets, and they are constantly in physical contact with them. These devices have become an integral part of our world. Yet for some users, this has turned out to be deadly. Teenagers are generally the age group most addicted to their smartphones, and some of them have been killed while using their devices, due to electrocution and malfunction.
News of electrocuted teens are the most dramatic smartphone-related occurrences since the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 started exploding and bursting into flames, which led to a massive recall. In 2017, a girl in Texas was found dead in her bathtub after her phone fell into the water and electrocuted her. In December of 2018, a teenage boy in Malaysia was found unresponsive on his bedroom floor. It is believed that he was electrocuted when listening to music through his headphones while his phone was charging.
According to a spokesperson for the Malaysian police, “checks showed no sign of bruises or injuries. However, there was bleeding in the boy’s left ear.” The case has led safety specialists to ask many questions. As a rule, manufacturers provide no warnings whatsoever about using headphones while a device is charging. On its website, Samsung, for example, explicitly states that users can “make full use” of the company’s smartphones and tablets while they are being charged.
Although the cause of the Malaysian boy’s death is yet to be determined, one major risk factor appears to be the use of third party chargers and headphones. These may not regulate the voltage for the phones, and their wiring tends to be relatively easy to break. Moreover, some of the cases used to protect the phones have been known to trap heat, causing them to burst into flames when kept under pillows at night.
In this scenario, a lot of the gadgets and accessories one can find on the market could be potentially deadly. Tech companies should be held accountable for the risks associated with common uses of their products, for example, listening to music while your phone is charging, something most users may do on a regular basis.
After all, it’s pretty safe to say that if companies warned customers, “if you use this device with a third party charger, you might die,” everybody would get a brand charger, or a phone from another manufacturer. By keeping these risk factors a secret, corporations are once again harming consumers in the interest of turning a profit. Many gadgets could be potentially deadly. Be very careful of third party chargers, and do not use these devices while napping or bathing.
John Uustal is a Fort Lauderdale trial lawyer with a national law practice focused on serious injuries resulting from dangerous and poorly designed products. His upcoming book Corporate Serial Killers focuses on companies that choose profits over safety.