Nokia on back foot in US class action over mobiles

There have been two breakthroughs for US consumers taking legal action against Nokia over allegations it had been selling faulty mobile handsets, with a NSW government investigation of similar claims in Australia continuing to influence the cases.Consumers brought class action law suits against Nokia in four US states early in 2002.

There have been two breakthroughs for US consumers taking legal action against Nokia over allegations it had been selling faulty mobile handsets, with a NSW government investigation of similar claims in Australia continuing to influence the cases.

Consumers brought class action law suits against Nokia in four US states early in 2002. They want Nokia to compensate them for purchasing certain models of the company's phones that have been described in their allegations as containing defective displays that "fade" or "disappear" under normal usage "with substantial regularity".

The class actions focus on the Nokia 8290, the US equivalent of the 8210, which became the subject of an investigation by the NSW Department of Fair Trading late in 2001 after it received a significant number of complaints from Australian consumers regarding the phone's display.

The allegation were recently extended to include the Nokia 32xx, 51xx, 61xx, 82xx and 88xx series handsets. However, it appears that in at least two cases Fair Trading's investigation of the 8210 series is posing the greatest challenge for Nokia's lawyers.

US lawyers acting on behalf of consumers and lead plaintiff, Henry La, asked a California court to order Nokia to release its records of the investigation under the states evidence discovery rules. However, counsel representing Nokia filed a motion to have the files subjected to a protection order, arguing that they don't contain evidence relevant to the case.

Nokia's attempt to supress the documents has failed. California Superior Court Judge Victoria Chaney recently ordered the company to release the documents for pre-trial discovery under a court-endorsed confidentiality agreement.

Since then the documents have played a pivotal role in a second legal action launched by Chris Henggeler on behalf of consumers in Colorado. There, a Denver County district court allowed lawyers representing Henggeler to use the documents to defeat Nokia's motion to stop the case being certified a class action under Colorado's legal code.

However, District Court Judge John McMullen found that Henggeler had satisfied the state's rules for declaring class action law suits and ordered the parties to submit a case management order before the end of March.

In California lawyers acting on behalf of Henry La have argued that Nokia violated Californian competition and consumer laws, breached its warranty and asked the court to compensate consumers under the Song-Beverley Consumer Warranty Act.

La's lawyers also argued that Nokia had engaged in deceptive and misleading advertising by marketing the phones carrying the alleged defect as being fir for purpose.

Counsel representing Nokia asked the Superior Court Judge Victoria Chaney to dismiss the complaints. Nokia was partially successful in dismissing La's complaint that the company breached its warranty but the court upheld his request to to test whether the terms of warranty were conscionable under California's consumer protection laws.