Fitbit sued over rashes experienced by bracelet wearers

The startup misled consumers in the promotion of its Force device, the suit alleges

Fitbit, a startup that makes wearable devices for activity tracking, is being sued following reports that users of its Force device developed skin rashes.

A class-action lawsuit was filed against the San Francisco-based company this week in the Superior Court of the state of California in San Diego, alleging that Fitbit misled consumers in its promotion and advertising of its Force digital bracelet, which has since been recalled.

The company launched Force late last year as its most advanced device for tracking users' movements and sleep patterns. The company recalled it last month after verifying that less than 2 percent of its wearers -- roughly 10,000 people -- experienced skin rashes.

At the time, Fitbit CEO and co-founder James Park said in a blog post that some users appeared to be suffering skin inflammation due to a possible reaction with the element nickel, which is used in Force's stainless steel chassis. Others, he said, may have been reacting to materials used in the strap or to adhesives in the Force's assembly.

The lawsuit alleges that Fitbit has not done due diligence to educate consumers about the precise cause of the problem or been proactive in offering refunds. People must contact Fitbit to receive a refund.

"You can stand in your office and say, 'We're recalling this,' but how many people really know?" said John Fiske, an attorney at the Gomez Law Firm. Fiske's firm is one of three representing lead plaintiff Jim Spivey, a California resident who purchased the device earlier this year and who wore it for a short period of time.

Despite the recall issued by the company, the plaintiff could not, "through the exercise of reasonable care, have discovered the risk of injury associated with and/or caused by the [device]," the suit said.

"Something is wrong with this product, and [Fitbit] knows something is wrong," Fiske said. Users still don't know enough about what that something is, he said.

Nickel can be found in many wearable items such as watches, earrings and jewelry, Fiske said, so it's unclear why Fitbit's Force might be causing skin issues.

Fitbit did not immediately respond to comment on the suit.

Separately, the Gomez Law Firm is also taking dozens of calls from people seeking personal injury suits, which the firm expects to file in the next couple of weeks, he said. Those suits could represent plaintiffs residing outside of California.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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Zach Miners

IDG News Service
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