Apple faces class action over alleged MacBook Pro defects
On October 24, 2014, a class action lawsuit was filed against Apple, Inc. concerning alleged defects in MacBook Pro laptops introduced by the company in 2011. Book v. Apple, Inc., Case No. 5:14-cv-04746-NC. The complaint was filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California on behalf of MacBook owners in California and Florida, where there are “tens of thousands” of 2011 MacBook Pro owners.
According to the complaint, the devices were designed and marketed as having “game-changing graphics” suitable for “graphics-intensive applications, like computer aided design, high definition video projects, and games.” For this reason, the MacBooks sold for a premium, with prices ranging from approximately $1,800 to over $3,000, depending on the upgrades.
The complaint alleges that the promised graphics were never delivered on many devices, however, due to faulty graphic processing units (“GPUs”) in the devices. The problem stems from a lead-free solder used to connect the GPU to the main circuit board of the laptop. The lead-free solder is composed on tin and silver, which is prone to cracking when exposed to rapid temperature changes. The complaint alleges that the machines run very hot when performing graphics-intensive tasks, and as a result, the solder may even crack within days of the MacBook’s first use. The cracked solder can cause distorted graphics, which sometimes present as banding on the screen or even a blank screen, system instability, and system failure. The complaint also cites online petitions signed by thousands of users alleging such problems.
Apple’s response to the issue appears to have provoked the most ire from MacBook users. Rather than replacing the units, Apple instead offered a software patch that would not cure the physical problem of a cracked solder. Other times, the complaint alleges that Apple would replace the logic board on devices that were under warranty, but this was not a permanent solution because the replacement parts included the same defectively designed GPU. Thus, customers are left with “$3,000 paper weights.” To date, Apple has not issued a recall of the devices.
With rapidly developing changes in technology and more reliance on technology by companies of all sizes, lawsuits arising from alleged technological glitches or defects are becoming increasingly common. But from a broader perspective, the lawsuit might serve as a reminder that a company’s response can be as or more important to the user than the alleged defect itself.
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Stephen E. Embry is a member of the Firm's class action, privacy and mass tort groups. He frequently defends participants in consumer class actions and mass tort litigation. Stephen is a national litigator and advisor who is experienced in developing solutions to complex litigation and corporate problems.