Samsung Electronics said Sunday it’s investigating a Galaxy Note 7 that is reported to have caught fire in Kentucky, a third incident in less than a week involving its replacement phones.
Michael Klering of Nicholasville, Ky., told WKYT that he woke up to a hissing sound in his bedroom Tuesday and found his replacement Note 7 on fire. He said he had owned the phone a little more than a week before it caught fire.
“The phone is supposed to be the replacement, so you would have thought it would be safe. It wasn’t plugged in,” Klering told the station. Klering said he went to a local emergency room due to vomiting and was diagnosed with acute bronchitis. He is now seeking a lawyer.
"We want to reassure our customers that we take every report seriously, and we are engaged with Mr. Klering to ensure we are doing everything we can for him,” Samsung said in a statement Sunday. “Customer safety remains our highest priority as we are investigating the matter."
The latest incident could heighten pressure on U.S. regulators to recall replacement Note 7s, which were thought to be safe after Samsung recalled 2.5 million of the original Note 7s last month when lithium-ion batteries in some of those devices caught fire.
AT&T confirmed Sunday that it is no longer exchanging new Note 7s, pending further investigation. "We still encourage customers with a recalled Note 7 to visit an AT&T location to exchange that device for another Samsung smartphone or other smartphone of their choice,” AT&T spokesman Fletcher Cook said.
AT&T has not been selling Note 7s since the recall. But the new Note 7s that arrived in AT&T stores Sept. 21 have been available for exchanges to customers with recalled Note 7s.
On Friday, Abby Zuis, 13, of Farmington, Minn., told local TV station KSTP that her replacement Galaxy Note 7 produced smoke and was burnt, with the protective cover melting.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission is also in the midst of an active “priority” investigation into why a replacement Note 7 caught fire last Wednesday on a Southwest flight from Louisville to Baltimore. The owner of the device has publicly said the phone was a replacement handset Samsung exchanged for a faulty Note 7.
No time frame was given on when there might be a resolution of the matter, and the CPSC wouldn’t say if it has the Note 7 that was on the Southwest flight or any other replacement phones whose batteries may be overheating and possibly posing a safety risk.
Samsung, which is cooperating with the investigation, said in a late statement Friday it is investigating the Southwest Airlines case to determine the cause and "will share findings as soon as possible."
"We remain in close contact with the CPSC throughout this process," the company said. "If we conclude a safety issue exists, we will work with the CPSC to take immediate steps to address the situation."
"Batterygate” has badly tarnished the South Korean company’s reputation and could scar the company for some time, especially as it competes with new smartphone lines from Apple (iPhone 7) and Google (Pixel). The latest incident also raises questions about the future of the Note 7 itself, a phone that before reports of battery trouble surfaced had generated glowing reviews.
“The short-term effect to the first recall seemed small,” says Matthew Quint, director of the Center on Global Brand Leadership at Columbia Business School. “A recall of replacement units? That’s two strikes. It gets a little dicey. What do they choose to do now?”
Samsung’s best option might be to recall the replacement Note 7 units and offer in their place a Note 5 or a high-end Samsung smartphone, plus a refund. Samsung could also offer a discount on the next version of the Note line, he says.
The long-term financial hit for Samsung remains to be seen. For now, it appears modest. In a preview of the full quarterly earnings that it reports later in the month, Samsung on Friday said its operating profit would reach 7.8 trillion won, about $7 billion, compared to 7.4 trillion won in the same period last year. Sales, though, are falling to 49 trillion won, or $44 billion, down 5% from a year earlier.