The mess around the Galaxy Note 7 recall is getting worse

Samsung’s problems seem to be getting worse as the company tries to orchestrate the replacement of millions of its Galaxy Note 7 smartphones, which have been found to explode and catch fire.

If that were not bad enough, there is now a report that the Samsung Galaxy S7, a separate smartphone that has been on the market since March, may have caused a car fire in Port St. Lucie, Florida, ABC News reported. While police were initially investigating whether a Galaxy Note 7 was the cause of that fire, the wife of the car’s owner told ABC that the smartphone was a Galaxy S7.

Doubts about the safety of the other Samsung products would be a major problem for Samsung. Not only has the Galaxy S7 been a big hit, the smartphone is being offered to consumers as part of the current replacement program.

It’s not clear whether this latest fire was caused by the same problem as the Galaxy Note 7 fires, whether it could be part of a separate issue or whether it is an isolated incident. Neither Samsung nor the Consumer Product Safety Commission immediately responded to a request for comment on whether the recall may be expanded to include other Samsung devices.

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Then there’s last week, when a California man filed a suit against Samsung alleging that the Galaxy S7 Edge – a larger version of the S7, with a curved screen – exploded and burned him, according to a USA Today report.

That followed a report from the Sun newspaper in Britain that an S7 Edge had exploded in a teacher’s hands. Samsung told the Sun: “There are no known safety issues with Galaxy S7 devices. This issue is currently being investigated, and our customer services team is in contact with the customer regarding the matter.”

The process of recalling an estimated 2.5 million Galaxy Note 7 smartphones from users has been messy. When reports of explosions first surfaced in Korean media, Samsung initiated a voluntary replacement program, encouraging customers to turn off their phones and trade them in to Samsung or their carriers. But those actions drew criticism from Consumer Reports and others who said that the seriousness of the defect merited a formal recall, which would make it illegal to continue selling the phones.

Samsung began working with the Consumer Product Safety Commission on an official recall. But that collaboration has led to complications in the return timeline, as all recall-related actions must be made in conjunction with the government agency. Muddying matters further, Samsung advertisements in Korea said the firm would issue a software update there that would limit the Galaxy Note 7’s battery to 60 percent capacity to mitigate the risk of fire, but there was no guidance from Samsung on whether that would also be available in the United States or whether such a cap reduces the risk of fires.

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Thus far, Samsung appears to have weathered the negative effects of what will surely be a costly recall of the Note 7. The firm’s stock, which dropped precipitously after the initial reports of explosions, started to recover Tuesday. Shares closed up 4.23 percent on the Korean stock market before trading stopped for the week because of a national holiday and after analysts said that even the negative coverage and confusion over the Note 7 replacement program had not yet seemed to hurt the firm’s overall smartphone sales.

Yet if the Galaxy Note 7 issue triggers more concerns about safety issues with that and other smartphones in Samsung’s line, the firm may be looking at a much larger problem than it initially anticipated.

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Video: Samsung recalled all of its new Galaxy Note 7 devices in 10 countries, including the United States, after discovering the batteries of some of its devices caught on fire or exploded. (Jhaan Elker/The Washington Post)

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