Dell's 'exploding laptop' problems take another twist

Canadian legal action alleges that Dell knew it had a problem with its Inspiron notebooks, but sold them anyway.
Written by Colin Barker, Contributor

After the issues around its notebook computers last year, Dell now finds that open season has been declared as it faces legal action in Canada from a user who complained that the company carried on selling the computers after it knew they suffered from problems.

The class action suit was filed in the Ontario Superior Court by Thad Griffin, a resident of Ontario, on behalf of other users of Dell Inspiron laptops. It alleges that design defects make certain Inspirons susceptible to overheating and that this overheating will cause extra wear to the motherboard, resulting in premature failure.

The overheating issue with the Inspiron is well known — Dell recalled 4.1 million laptop batteries in August last year because of reports of batteries overheating and catching fire.

The publicity from that issue haunted Dell as it struggled to rebuild its public image. The company's share price plummeted after the news broke in August and only slowly recovered through November. Dell has attempted to rebuild its image by accelerating initiatives such as its carbon-neutral strategy, announced last week.

The legal action filed on Friday applies to Inspiron models 1100, 1150, 5100, 5150 and 5160. It seeks to have Dell Canada replace the defective computers or to cover the cost of repairs. The justification for this, according to a lawyer in the case, is that there appears to be "a systemic problem".

Dell computers do have the usual warranties for one year in Canada, just as with the United Kingdom, although currently Dell offers three-year warranties on Inspirons in the United Kingdom.

Joel Rochon, a partner of Rochon Genova, the firm conducting the case, said in an interview with the Canadian Press: "Generally, we're seeing these symptoms or problems occur after the warranties run out. And it would appear as though it's a systemic problem that's inherent to all of these Inspiron models. At least, that's the feedback we're getting."

According to Rochon, there has been a "steady flow" of people bringing their problems to his firm.

But Dell computers do not have any inherent problems, according to Which? (formerly the Consumers' Association), which looked closely at Dell laptops when the overheating issue first came to light in August.

At that time, Computing Which? senior researcher Kim Gilmour said: "Our surveys show that Dell is one of the most reliable brands out there, but this type of incident could harm Dell's image badly. Dell did react quickly but it could have reacted faster. It took the company several weeks to issue this mass recall of batteries."

A Which? spokesman told ZDNet UK on Monday that the organisation has not yet had to time to consider the current issues around the alleged problems with Dell's Inspiron.

When contacted on Monday, Dell would only say it "does not comment on pending litigation, as a matter of corporate policy".

Dell customers still concerned about the overheating issue should look at the information on Dell's Web site.

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