McDonalds has recalled 29 million Happy Meal toy fitness trackers in the U.S. and Canada because of reported rash and burn injuries. The McDonalds “Step It” trackers included two versions of brightly colored, wearable tech: one that counts steps, and one that signals walking speed with flashes of light. These Step It “toys” are not high dollar adult wear and yet the injuries reported—rashes and burns—are eerily similar to injuries from Fitbits that the company was forced to recall in 2014. Just three weeks ago, another company, Basis, recalled its Peak tracker for causing burns and blisters.
Technology advances are carried over to consumer products at a faster pace than any time in history. We now have automated cars, smart houses, virtual reality, and wearable “tech” including fitness trackers. These early adopter technologies can sometimes come with a price, namely the risk of injury to the user. Fitness trackers hit the market in 2008—in the tech world, that’s a lifetime ago. Yet, these products continue to exhibit failures that cause injuries—and in some cases, the cause remains a mystery.
When Fitbit recalled its Force model, it declared that users were reacting to the composition of the adhesives or “to the nickel in the stainless steel casing.’” But a year later, injuries were still being reported from new models that supposedly fixed these issues. Back in early 2015, ABC News 7 in San Francisco released preliminary findings from an ongoing probe by scientists at the Consumer Product Safety Commission. They found it “plausible for a person’s perspiration to enter the charging port… [causing a] chemical reaction that produced a toxic compound.” If this theory proves out, it could explain why the non-metal Happy Meal tracker injured children in the same way as the Fitbits.
Although some people wait to embrace new products until the bugs are worked out, technophiles jump at the opportunity to have the first, coolest products on the market. And so do companies like McDonalds that want to capitalize on trends —at least in terms of advertising to consumers. However, this “race to the finish line” mentality can come at the risk of injury to users, as we have seen with the Tesla automated car (Tesla accident), with e-cigarettes (E-Cig Injuries), and now with yet another fitness tracker.
In tech circles 2014 was referred to as the “Year of Wearables,” and growth of the market is estimated by various forecasters to reach anywhere from 19 billion to 25 billion dollars by 2019. The companies that get to market first with the most coveted wearable products stand to make millions in a short period of time. Unfortunately, this may come at a cost to consumers in the form of serious injuries as with the fitness trackers, or even fatal injuries from more advanced product introductions. It may be that the years 2016-2017 will become known as the “Years of Tech Injuries,” rather than of any tech advances.
If you or someone you know has been injured from using a consumer technology product, you should seek out an experienced attorney who can advise you about product liability and the complexities of determining how an injury occurred. Speaking with someone knowledgeable in these areas is particularly important, because injuries such as heat or chemical burns from electronic devices may require long-term treatment and special insurance considerations.