Chris Galford Feb. 16, 2016, 4:10pm


SAN FRANCISCO – Consumers from across the nation are suing Fitbit Inc. in a class-action suit that claims the company's brand of wearable heart rate monitors failed to work as advertised.

Filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, the suit was put forward on behalf of three plaintiffs represented by a team from Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann & Bernstein, and Oregon solo practitioner Robert Klonoff, citing Fitbit's PurePulse Trackers' failure to count every heartbeat, in contrast to the products' slogan, "Every Beat Counts." The plaintiffs allege that the PurePulse trackers, a feature of Fitbit's Charge HR and Surge devices, do not and cannot consistently or accurately record wearers' heart rates during intense physical activity–the market Fitbit was expressly targeting with the PurePulse.

Though three plaintiffs were noted in the case, it was filed on behalf of all consumers affected by the device's alleged faulty promises.

"Fitbit marketed these products through aggressive advertising to consumers, who were deceived in the devices’ true functionality, and who also were put at a safety risk by trusting the Fitbit Heart Rate Monitors’ inaccurate measurements," Klonoff said, in an interview with the Northern California Record.

Fitbit, a San Francisco-based company, sells wristbands that have gained national prominence in recent years for their usefulness in health-related data collection. They offer step counting, distance and calorie calculations, and sleep monitoring capabilities. With the Charge HR, released in 2014, the company also added heart rate tracking to its line, and eliminated the need for the chest straps competitor products utilize.

The plaintiffs claim the heart rate monitors underreported their exercising heart rates.

“I bought a Fitbit Charge HR because I am a serious fitness enthusiast and I wanted to track my heart rate accurately and consistently while I exercised to help me exercise safely and meet my fitness goals. Fitbit’s ads made it clear that that is precisely what the heart rate monitors are supposed to do. But in my experience, they do not, and when I complained to Fitbit, they refused to refund my money," Kate McLellan, one of the cited plaintiffs, said.

She said that she brought the case not simply because the Fitbit Charge HR did not live up to its claims, but because Fitbit refused to stand by its promises.

"And I brought it as a class action because I am not alone–I have learned that many others have experienced exactly the same failures because the heart rate monitors do not perform as promised," McLellan said.

In the filed complaint, support was pulled from snippets of customer reviews on Amazon.com as well as expert analysis. When a board-certified cardiologist tested the PurePulse Trackers against an electrocardiogram, the complaint notes, the Fitbit devices were found to be off by an average of 24 beats per minute, with some readings off by as much as 75 beats. At intensities over 110 bpm, the heart rate trackers were reported to have often failed to even record a heartbeat.

Yet there is another twist to the case. On Fitbit's website is an arbitration agreement and class-action ban, which the complaint alleges is not likewise provided to customers at the company's physical location or third-party online retailers. Those customers do not even come into contact with the agreements until they have already purchased the products and taken them home to try and register them. However, those devices will not, in turn, work until such registration is completed.

Klonoff referenced the suit when he noted it as an effort on Fitbit's part to shield itself from accountability.

"Those clauses–which purport to take away consumers’ constitutional rights to bring a lawsuit to protect themselves from fraud–are hidden on Fitbit’s website…Fitbit has admitted in court documents in an unrelated case that the Fitbit devices cannot function properly without registering them on Fitbit’s website. And just by visiting that website, Fitbit purports to bind you to the arbitration clause and class-action ban. We believe that this practice, itself, is an unfair and fraudulent business practice and an example of the dangers of allowing companies to unilaterally impose arbitration clauses on unsuspecting consumers," Klonoff said.

U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, San Francisco Division Case number 16-cv-36

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U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California
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