A few years ago, Apple sold me a $4,000 computer with a defective graphics chip/logic board. The defective part was the Nvidia 8600M GT GPU, and when it was discovered that the machine was defective, Apple refused to take it back and issue me a refund. Instead, they promised to replace the 8600M GT boards when they failed, up to 4 years from the date of purchase.
Three years later, the board failed, and predictably, Apple refused to replace it. Instead, they used the fact that the machine wouldn’t boot (due to the failed logic board) to deny the repair. Not only that, but in addition, they tried to charge me a hefty sum of money to have it replaced, knowing full well that Nvidia pays for the full repair cost.
Three and a half months ago, after having my repair denied, I announced on this very site that I was going to sue Apple. Reading these lawsuit threats often, many people assumed that I was bluffing or blowing off steam, but true to my word, I did exactly what I said I was going to do. I sued Apple.
I did not take this step lightly, however. In the months following the announcement, I did everything in my power to keep my dispute with Apple out of the court system.
First, I filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. In their rebuttal to the BBB, Apple blatantly lied about the diagnostics they had run on my computer, and the BBB promptly closed the case, leaving Apple’s “A+” rating intact.
Next, I spoke with Apple Executive Services … three separate times. Each time, I was told that “We value each customer and hope that they have a positive experience with Apple, and are sorry that you did not have this experience, but you will get nothing.” … or something to this effect.
After that, I sent a demand letter to Apple via certified mail. I informed them that if I did not have my issue resolved within 10 days, I would sue.
Last week, the trial was held.
I arrived at the King County Courthouse shortly after 8am, and about forty five minutes later, the clerk performed roll call. Imagine my surprise when I learned that Apple had sent not one, but two people to represent the company. When Apple told me that I would get nothing, they really meant it.
After calling roll, and before calling the docket, the clerk went down the case list and asked each litigant if they would be willing to try mediation. Mediation keeps cases out of the court system, and keeps the outcomes confidential. This is especially beneficial to companies, as having judgements issued against them by customers is bad PR.
Always one to exhaust all good-faith remedies before resorting to more drastic measures (really, nobody can say I didn’t try my hardest to stay out of court), I agreed to try mediation, and to my surprise, so did Apple.
Since everything said in the mediation room is confidential, I cannot go into details about what happened there, but I will tell you that it failed, and the case was sent back to the courtroom.
In retrospect, I am glad that mediation did fail. After seeing that Apple sent two guys … two guys who were in continuous contact with Apple legal via text and cell … I knew that I was outgunned, outspent, and out-everything elsed. $500,000,000,000 vs. $37 and a pack of chewing gum is not a fair fight. Because of this, I offered settlements that were ridiculously favorable to Apple and unfavorable to myself, but even these were rejected. Thank goodness that they were.
After failing mediation, shortly after 11am, we were called before the judge, sworn in, and I read my opening statement. I said basically everything I’ve been saying on this blog for the last several months. I stuck to the facts, handed my exhibits to the clerk (several printed pages), and was as professional as possible.
When it was Apple’s turn, their representatives opened by throwing a hail mary pass. While holding up the press release outlining the 8600GT replacement program, they claimed that, because the CPU in my MacBook Pro was clocked at 2.6Ghz, and not 2.4Ghz, or 2.5Ghz as stated in the release, that I had a completely different computer … one that was not subject to the 4 year replacement program.
You see, when I ordered my MacBook Pro, I paid about $300 extra for them to up-clock the chip from 2.5Ghz to 2.6Ghz. Yes, it was a classic Apple ripoff, and yes, I was dumb to order it, but I did it, mea culpa.
I had absolutely no idea that it would be used against me in a court of law to explain to a judge why I should not be covered by an extended warranty, and it caught me off-guard. Perhaps, despite everything, I am still a bit naive, because not even I expected Apple to just … lie. At least not in such a silly manner.
Remember, I was not going up against the owner of some taco stand, I was up against the most profitable company in the USA. I honestly expected more than a silly fib.
After listening to Apple, the judge turned to me and asked for my response, and I explained to him, in detail, that the chips, logic boards, and GPUs in all of the MacBook Pro models were the same, regardless of the speed at which the CPUs had been clocked.
Confused, the judge turned to Apple and asked, “Is this true?”
There was some awkward silence as the Apple guys exchanged uncomfortable looks between each other, before one of them finally said “Yes, it is.”
“So, this machine IS covered by the 8600GT repair program?”, asked the judge.
“Yes it is, your honor”, replied Apple.
So, there we were. Not more than 2 minutes into the trial, and Apple conceded to trying to hoodwink the judge.
This is more or less the way the rest of the trial played out. I made a point, Apple rebutted it with something completely off-the-wall and irrelevant, and I explained to the judge why Apple’s rebuttal was nonsense. I took the time to explain everything clearly, I answered all of the judge’s technical questions in detail, and at one point, the judge even declared that he would accept my testimony as that of an “expert witness”.
Apple, well, they didn’t really have a defense. They just kept repeating things like “It’s Apple’s policy to do this”, and “It’s Apple’s position that we do that”. The Apple guys seemed genuinely surprised that I knew as much as I did about computer hardware. I’m not trying to insult iPeople, at least not in this article, but during both mediation and the trial, I realized that Apple has a strong expectation that their users not be tech-savvy and, as such, Apple seems used to infantilizing and bamboozling their customers with silly and nonsensical explanations of highly technical matters.
Years ago, I remember debating the Mac vs. Everything Else issue with a friend of mine, and every time I would bring up the relative attributes of a particular component, he would always respond with “Specs don’t matter!”
I thought he was just being stubborn, but after this experience, I realize that this type of “I don’t care about gigahertz and whatchamajiggers, I just know that Macs use pixie dust and purple elephant dung to make magic!” mentality is a part of the Apple culture from the top down. From the lowest-level sales rep all the way up to the corporate guys.
As the trial went on, I showed the judge evidence that the 8600M graphics cards were known to be defective, I showed him that I had an 8600M in my machine, and I explained to him that, despite their promise to do so, Apple refused to replace my board because it would not boot, and it would not boot because the 8600M had failed.
The judge accepted these explanations, and when he asked Apple what it would cost to replace my logic board if I paid in cash, I interjected and explained to the judge that if Apple replaced only the logic board, it would simply be another logic board with a defective GPU, therefore, such a solution would not be acceptable.
The judge responded by asking Apple if my machine could be fitted with a different GPU, and when they replied “No, that machine will only accept an 8600M GT”, the judge declared my make & model of MacBook Pro to be defective and unrepairable by any means.
Eventually, over the continued objections of the Apple folks (one of the guys kept arguing that I should give Apple one last chance to fix it), I was awarded a cash amount. The amount I was awarded is enough to replace the computer, which means that I should once again have a 17″ laptop. Assuming Apple actually pays me.
Now, I didn’t get everything I asked for. When I filed the suit, I was pissed off, so I asked for the kitchen sink … a refund of Apple Care (which I only purchased when I learned the machine was defective), compensation for loss of use, and even some punitive damages.
Had I been able to show loss-of-use damages, I probably would have gotten them, but the judge awarded what would “make me whole” … essentially, putting me back in the same place that I was before Apple wronged me. This being the case, I received compensation for the machine itself, plus court costs, costs of service, etc.
It was a fair ruling, a little more than I expected actually, and I thanked the judge.
The Apple guys, well, they were none too happy. By the time I stood up, they had already beat a hasty path to the courtroom door. I was going to offer my hand, thank them for their time, and explain that it was nothing personal, but they weren’t interested in any of it.
And that was that.
I guess what they say is true. The sun even shines on a dog’s butthole every now and then, and on this day, I got myself a nice tan.
David faced Goliath, and not unlike the AT&T case a couple of months ago, David somehow, someway, came out on top.
Even though I’m glad it turned out the way it did, one question still nags me:
Why did it have to come to this?
At one point, the judge asked Apple how much it would have cost them to have simply replaced my logic board when I had taken it in, and one of the Apple guys said “Oh, it wouldn’t have cost us anything, Nvidia foots the bill for each board we replace.”
The judge’s face almost hit the floor as he shot me a quizzical look, to which I just shrugged. I knew that he, and everyone else in the courtroom was thinking the same thing:
If Apple could have replaced my logic board at no cost to themselves, then why in the hell did they drag this out for so long, and why did they send two people to court to try and make sure that I got absolutely nothing? Friends, this is a question I have been asking myself for three months, and it is a question that I do not have the answer to.
You know, I fully respect a person or a company that stands up for himself/itself when they are in the right. It’s the correct thing to do.
What I don’t understand, however, is why Apple fought so hard against me when they were clearly in the wrong. It wasn’t even a judgement call. I knew they were wrong, the judge knew they were wrong, the clerk knew it, the audience knew it, and you could tell … you could just tell that Apple knew it as well.
And what of the shareholders? What should they make of this? Apple’s stock has been an E-ticket ride lately, but this incident should really give shareholders pause. I mean, what kind of judgement are the current leaders of Apple using?
Think about it … instead of repairing my computer under the repair program that they, themselves, announced … at absolutely no cost to themselves … Apple paid two guys to come to Downtown Seattle, and … well … lie, so that I would not have a non-defective computer. When you factor in the time it took them to get here, the time spent in court, and the time to get home, Apple paid two guys a day’s wages to defend this suit.
In addition, instead of paying nothing for the repair, they paid a legal team to oversee the case, and, oh yeah … you guys, the shareholders, are buying me a new computer too. Thanks.
As far as I can tell, Apple spent all of this time and money, solely to be a bully. Was that really money well-spent? I mean, you can almost excuse the holy wars against Adobe, Samsung, Android, and the prototype guys … but a local blogger?
The obsessiveness of crushing all perceived enemies, no matter how big or small, regardless of whether they are wrong or right, should be of concern to all iFans and financiers. It’s getting to the point where it’s really, really just sick.
Gone are the days of the scrappy underdog, throwing a hammer through the window of conformity, and what has emerged is … well, it’s far worse than what it was rebelling against.
Apple has become the Orwellian nightmare that it warned us about some 30 years ago. A huge vehicle of sameness backed by legions of newthink practitioners, gleefully cheering as Big Bully annihilates one thoughtcriminal after another.
Apple may be profitable, but it’s not well. Something is wrong at the highest levels, and if I was strongly tied to the company financially, I might be worried. Although blinded by Apple’s success in the near-term, I don’t think history will judge the company favorably.
Anyway, now comes the hard part.
Collecting the money. A judgement is only a piece of paper. It’s worth nothing if you can’t collect.
If what I have seen from Apple is any guide, they will spend $50 Million to get out of paying my four-figure judgement, simply out of spite. Just how much of the shareholder’s money will Apple end up spending because they tried to screw Seattle Rex remains to be seen.
I’ll fight on, though. No matter how many obstacles Apple throws in my way, I’ll keep going. After all, it’s what I do. I guess you can say I …
Update: Wow, this article really set off a firestorm. I’ve received scores of emails from people who were given the same “it won’t boot so we won’t repair it” explanation that I was, and were forced to pay for the repair out of their own pocket.
This really is a larger suit, perhaps a class-action suit in the making (as much as I detest class-actions for their unfairness toward the class), and I am exploring the possibilities of bringing a second suit against the company for fraud, misrepresentation, etc.
I’m simply astounded by how many people received the same treatment as myself over the 8600M issue.
Update 4/28/12: Apple has satisfied my judgement. http://www.seattlerex.com/update-apple-satisfies-my-judgement/