Apple’s Latest Lawsuit Arises From the iPhone Defect “Touch Disease”

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By: Will MacIlwaine,

On September 7, Apple held its annual fall event. The event featured the introduction of the Apple Watch 2, as well as the iPhone 7, which is the first iPhone not to include a headphone jack.

While the fall event might suggest that things are continuously heading in the right direction for the innovative company, a defect associated with the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus devices suggests otherwise. In the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, three iPhone users have filed a class-action lawsuit against Apple for the defect that has been coined “Touch Disease.”[1]

Inside the affected iPhone models are chips that allow a user’s finger and the screen to interact.[2] For some users, these chips are not correctly secured to the logic board of the phone, and fail as a result of the consumer’s normal use of the device.[3] The plaintiffs in this case claim that Apple concealed this defect, which “causes the touchscreens on the iPhones to become unresponsive and fail for their essential purpose as smartphones.”[4] The defect also causes a gray flickering bar to appear at the top of the device’s screen.[5]

All three plaintiffs, Todd Cleary, Jun Bai, and Thomas Davidson, have experienced the “Touch Disease” issue.[6] All three individuals were told that they could pay an additional fee, over $300 dollars, for a replacement phone.[7]

The plaintiffs note that the previous iPhone 5S design included a metal shield to protect the device’s logic board, allowing the phone to better accommodate reasonable use by the consumer.[8] Additionally, the iPhone 5c design used an “underfill” mechanism to reinforce the chips at issue and protect them from normal wear and tear.[9] According to the plaintiffs, the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus models carry neither of these protective features.[10]

The plaintiffs claim that Apple has done nothing to remedy the defect, even though it has had knowledge of the issue for some time.[11] Apple gained this knowledge, according to the plaintiffs, through the records of customer complaints, repair records, and various customer claims.[12] The plaintiffs state that Apple’s lack of action is a result of “unfair, deceptive and/or fraudulent business practices.”[13] They even go as far as to argue that, had they not relied on Apple’s representations regarding the quality of the product, they would have paid less for the iPhones, or would not have purchased them at all.[14]

In their argument plaintiffs first posit that Apple engaged in unfair and deceptive acts in violation of the California Consumers Legal Remedies Act (“CLRA”) by knowingly and intentionally concealing from the customers the fact that the iPhones were faulty.[15] In a general sense, the plaintiffs argue that Apple misrepresented the product, representing that the phones had certain characteristics, uses, or benefits that they did not have.[16] They also argue that Apple misrepresented the quality of the product, and advertised the phones with the intent not to sell them as advertised.[17] Since Apple is in a better position to know the true state of the touchscreen defect, the plaintiffs contend that Apple owed a duty to the customer to disclose this issue.[18]

Further, the plaintiffs argue that since they were deceived in purchasing the phones, which they would not have purchased if they had knowledge about the defects, that Apple was fraudulent in its actions.[19] Among other claims for relief include those based on negligent misrepresentation, unjust enrichment, breach of implied warranty, and claims based on violations of several warranty acts.[20]

The “Touch Disease” only became an issue about six months ago.[21] Further, many users are just now starting to experience this problem on the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, two years after the release of these models.[22] It’s difficult to believe that Apple knew that this was going to be an issue when it originally advertised and eventually released the phones in September of 2014.[23] Apple, while a powerhouse in the technology industry, cannot predict the future, and it’s certainly plausible that the company had no idea that the affected phones would have this kind of issue more than a year and a half after release. If that’s the case, there does not seem to be any “unfair” or “deceptive” action taken by Apple.[24]

On the other hand, ignoring the issue and continuing to produce and sell these iPhone models after becoming aware of the issue could be seen as deceiving and as misrepresenting the quality of the product, if in fact Apple had reasonable knowledge that the issue was affecting a majority of the models in the iPhone line it was continuing to produce and sell.

In reality though, Apple’s general warranty on its iPhone line is a one-year limited warranty.[25] After that, it is the consumer’s responsibility to pay for necessary repairs. All three plaintiffs in this case had been in possession of their phones for at least one and a half years before beginning to experience this issue.[26]

It would seem to be a bit more complicated if a user experiencing this issue was still within the one-year warranty period, because Apple’s warranties do not include coverage for “defects caused by normal wear and tear or otherwise due to the normal aging of the Apple Product.”[27] Then, the main issue would seem to be whether the defect was really a result of normal wear and tear, compared to a design defect as the plaintiffs claim.[28] If the plaintiffs were still within the warranty period, the claims might have more merit, but since the plaintiffs and many of the individuals having this issue only started to experience it around the two-year mark of owning the phones,[29] this does not seem to be the main subject of potential litigation. In this case, it does not seem likely that the court will side with the customers bringing these claims.

Important to reiterate is the fact that this is a class action. The plaintiffs seek to represent a nationwide class of iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus users. That being said, this could be an issue for Apple if anything actually comes from these claims. Be on the lookout for a response from Apple in the coming weeks.

 

[1] See Don Reisinger, Apple Is Being Sued Over the iPhone ‘Touch Disease’, Fortune, (Aug. 30, 2016), http://fortune.com/2016/08/30/apple-touch-disease-lawsuit/ (last visited Sep 13, 2016).

[2] See id.

[3] See Class Action Complaint ¶ 27, Davidson v. Apple, Inc., No. 5:16-cv-4942, (N.D. Cal. filed Aug. 27, 2016).

[4] See id. ¶ 1.

[5] See id. ¶ 21.

[6] See id. ¶¶ 8-10.

[7] See id.

[8] See Class Action Complaint, supra note 3, ¶ 28.

[9] See id.

[10] See id. ¶ 30.

[11] See id. ¶ 2.

[12] See id. ¶ 35.

[13] See Class Action Complaint, supra note 3, ¶ 4.

[14] See id. ¶ 38.

[15] See id. ¶ 57; Cal. Civ. Code § 1770 (a)(2),(5),(7),(9) (2016).

[16] See Class Action Complaint, supra note 3, ¶ 57; Cal. Civ. Code § 1770 (a)(5) (2016).

[17] See Class Action Complaint, supra note 3, ¶ 57; Cal. Civ. Code § 1770 (a)(9) (2016).

[18] See Class Action Complaint, supra note 3, ¶ 60.

[19] See id. ¶ 82.

[20] See id. ¶ 15-19.

[21] John Matarese, Apple iPhone ‘Disease’ Making Touch Screens Useless, WCPO Cincinnati (Sept. 12, 2016), http://www.wcpo.com/money/consumer/dont-waste-your-money/apple-iphone-disease-making-touch-screens-useless.

[22] See id.

[23] See id.

[24] See Class Action Complaint, supra note 3, ¶ 4.

[25] See Your Hardware Warranty, http://www.apple.com/legal/warranty/products/ios-warranty-document-us.html#2013328_201623 (last visited Sept. 14, 2016).

[26] See Class Action Complaint, supra note 3, ¶¶ 8-10.

[27] See Your Hardware Warranty, supra note 25.

[28] See Class Action Complaint, supra note 3, ¶ 30.

[29] See Matarese, supra note 21.

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