Fitbit Force rash debacle leads to possible class-action lawsuit

After thousands of users report skin irritation from using the health tracker bracelet, some are itching for a lawsuit.

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
3 min read
More than 10,000 users have reported skin irritation from wearing the Fitbit Force health tracker. Sarah Tew/CNET

Could this be the beginning of a Fitbit rash-gate? After company apologies, medical investigations, a full recall, and putting an end to sales of the Fitbit Force activity-tracking device -- some users still aren't satisfied.

A lawsuit against Fitbit, which is seeking class-action status, was filed on Monday in the Superior Court of California in San Diego County, according to The Wall Street Journal. The suit alleges that Fitbit didn't do a good enough job at alerting consumers about possible rashes caused by the Force in its promotional and advertising material.

The suit is being led by aviation teacher Jim Spivey, 49, who didn't actually ever have skin irritation from his Force but is bringing the suit because he believes Fitbit should have been more vocal to consumers about the device recall.

"I have a concern that there is still a risk of developing an injury for me and others," he said, according to the Journal.

It was revealed earlier this year that thousands of users had complained to Fitbit about having skin irritation -- including redness, rashes, itchy and dry patches, and blistering -- from wearing the device.

The company originally responded in January by offering refunds or replacements of the Force with any other Fitbit product. Then, coordinating with the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), Fitbit offered a voluntary recall on the Force in February, along with pulling the device from store shelves.

According to the CPSC, 9,900 people reported skin irritation from the Force and 250 people reported blistering. While these numbers seem high, they're actually accounting for only 1.7 percent of Force owners. The recall is aimed at 1 million devices in the US and 28,000 in Canada.

The $129 Force, which was an upgraded version of the popular Fitbit Flex, came in the form of a slim rubber wristband that was wired to count users' steps and monitor their sleep. The backside of the device contained stainless steel components that used trace amounts of nickel, along with latex-free elastomer materials and adhesives.

Fitbit CEO James Park said in February that after hiring independent labs and medical experts to conduct a "thorough investigation," it was determined that the skin irritation most likely came from users' allergies to materials in the device -- otherwise known as allergic contact dermatitis.

The lawsuit demands that Fitbit tell all Force users in California about the recall, along with coordinating a full refund for the device, according to the Journal. Additionally, the suit calls on Fitbit to announce a full disclosure on why users were having the skin irritations.

"We are asking for full disclosure of the dangerous aspects of the product and a full disclosure of why it's causing these injuries," lead attorney for the suit John Fiske said, according to the Journal.

When contacted by CNET, a Fitbit spokesperson said the company has already taken the steps asked by the lawsuit.

"Based on our initial review of the lawsuit, the complaint asks for a recall of Force and a refund to consumers," the spokesperson said. "Fitbit took initiative long before this complaint was filed, publicly offered refunds, and worked closely with the CPSC on its voluntary recall program. We strongly disagree with the statements about the product and the Company."

Updated at 10:05 p.m. PT with comment from Fitbit spokesperson.

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