In the last five years, I’ve gone to court twice. Both times I was the plaintiff, both times I represented myself, both times the company I sued was represented by an attorney, and both times I won.
It wasn’t easy, though. In fact, the last suit took 18 months from beginning to end, and it cost me thousands of dollars in fees (which the defendant eventually paid).
In the end, I can’t really say that it was all worth it. My wins have been moderately-sizable, but after accounting for time, paperwork, and days off for trial, I probably could have made more money flipping hamburgers.
So why do I do it?
Frankly, I don’t know. I guess I’m just a glutton for punishment.
That being noted, it looks like I will once again be going to court, and this time I will be suing the biggest, baddest, most vindictive company of them all.
Yeah, that Apple. The one that commands entire police forces to do its bidding over even the smallest perceived slight. This, will be the most challenging suit of them all.
I’ve gotten ahead of myself, though. Some context is in order …
You see, I’ve owned computers for the last 20+ years. The TRS-80 Color Computer, Commodore 64, IBM PC — I was in the first wave of true home computer users. Since that time, I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate to have never had a machine completely fail. I’ve had a hard drive die here, a memory stick blown there, but I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve always been able to fix all of my hardware problems myself for a relatively small amount of money.
From the late-1980’s to the late 2000’s, all of my machines were either Windows or Linux boxes/laptops. They served me well, and for the most part, I was content with them. After years and years and years of being told that “they just work!”, however, I realized that I had never really taken the time to get to know the Macintosh platform. I felt computationally deprived. Unaware of a platform that, by all accounts, I really should know. Especially since they were the most reliable, trouble-free machines ever made. At least this is what I was told by people whose opinion I no longer respect on such matters.
And so, in 2008, I purchased a top-of-the-line, fully-loaded, 17” MacBook Pro.
Yes, you read correctly, four thousand five hundred dollars.
Now, even though I spent the better part of 5 G’s on a premium machine … a machine which by all accounts “just worked” … every iPerson I encountered told me that I would be nuts not to buy Apple Care, the remarkably expensive extended warranty sold by Apple.
“Wait”, I replied, “If these machines just work, then why on earth would I need to pay five hundred dollars for an additional warranty?”
All of a sudden, the iPeople who had been so confident about the quality of Apple hardware seemed taken aback. Dare I say that my question both confused and confounded them. “Uh … everyone knows you get Apple Care, why wouldn’t you get Apple Care? Apple Care is good, it’s holy, it’s made from the drippings of the great turtlenecked one. Steve loves Apple Care, and so should you. Rex, get Apple Care, get Apple Care, get Apple Care and dance with us in the fountain of pixie dust and pink elephant dung!”
And so, I did. Another five hundred bucks into the ether. This brought the grand total of my machine to $5,100 after tax. A bargain, I was told, given the wisdom of my “investment”.
A week later, my machine arrived, and I was happy. I don’t know if I was $5,100 happy, but since it was a new machine, I still got excited. I mean, what kind of person doesn’t get excited when they get a brand-spanking-new computer?
Unfortunately, the honeymoon did not last long. About a month after I received the computer, I began seeing headlines in the tech press about a defective GPU that had been manufactured by NVIDIA. The chip was called the 8600M GT.
You know my brand-spanking-new $5,100 laptop?
Yeah, that one.
Well, it had an 8600M GT soldered to the motherboard.
I was broken hearted. I emailed Apple. No response. I culled the forums. No information, just speculation. Finally, Apple issued a statement. They said that the MacBook Pros did, indeed, have the defective chip in them, but they assured customers that everything would be cool.
“Oh thank God!”, I thought, “Apple is going to show me their award-winning customer service. They were going to make this right. They were going to recall my computer, give me a new one, and all would be well.”
Unfortunately, this did not happen. Instead, Apple decided to take a gamble. Instead of giving their valued customers good graphics chips, they decided to replace the faulty chips as they failed. They reasoned that, if the 8600M GT cards could hang on just long enough for people to exceed their $500 warranties, the company could make bank on millions and millions of defective GPUs.
It was an impeccable gamble, and one for which Apple has been rewarded many times over in share price over the years.
The rest of us … the customers … however … did not fare so well in the scheme.
In September of 2011, my Apple Care expired.
In November of 2011, my GPU started flaking. Odd lines through the screen, extreme dimming during video-intensive tasks, all kinds of terrible things.
On the morning of December 31, 2011, the $4,500 machine died while playing a video, and will no longer boot.
It just works.
Three months out of warranty, my defective graphics chip breathed its last breath. The only computer I’ve ever had die. While the $1,000 Dell laptop I bought in 2001 is still purring along, still able to … well, it doesn’t do much … but I can still run Firefox on Windows 2000 if I really, really want to.
Still, I held out hope. I searched the web, and low and behold Apple issued the following release just a few months ago:
Apple was going to make it good. All I needed to do was contact them.
Next step, a journey through Apple’s “Award Winning” Customer Support. You know, the support that I am assured ranks #1 in every consumer electronics poll in America.
I called Apple Care, and after arguing with a robot … that’s right, award-wining support was answered by a robot that couldn’t understand a word I said … I sat on hold for a half hour.
When a human finally answered the phone, he told me that my “free phone support had expired”, and that I would need to make an appointment with a “genius” at my local Apple Store.
So much for the best customer service in the USA.
Still, I didn’t give up.
Today, I went to the Apple Store in the University Village, to meet with a, uh, genius.
While standing in line at the “genius” bar, another man looked at me, looked at my 17” MacBook Pro, then looked back up at me.
“Did yours die too?”, he asked.
“Yep”, I responded.
“Mine went yesterday”, he said.
“As did mine”, I replied.
Finally, after a comedy of errors in which they assigned an iPhone “genius” to assist me with my MacBook Pro, I was handed off to a computer “genius”.
He tried to boot the machine, and when it failed, he declared that “it wouldn’t boot”.
Ahhhhhh, now I see why they call them geniuses.
He also informed me that since it wouldn’t boot, he could not verify that it was the graphics chip that was causing the problem, and I would therefore have to pay for any and all repairs, which he would generously cap at six hundred and something dollars.
I was unamused by this offer.
The guy tried to explain himself, but I just stared at him incredulously until he started stuttering and tripping over his words.
“You you you you see, sometimes computers go bad, but even new computers go bad, and when new computers go bad, it means that computers aren’t perfect, so so so so so so we can’t just replace the components because we aren’t responsible for any defects because sometimes computers go bad and we don’t know what’s wrong but it’s possible that the fix will only be sixty dollars!”
I was confused. I looked at my companion, who gave me a weird look in return that asked “what in the hell is this guy talking about?”
Now look, I’m not being mean. I heard the guy talking to other people and he didn’t have a stutter. At least not usually. He knew he was jacking me, though, and he knew it was wrong. Deep down, he knew. He knew the “it won’t boot” thing was Apple’s get-out-of-replacing-GPU-free card.
“So, you’re going to charge me money to replace the defective GPU you initially charged me $4,500 for?”, I asked.
“Well well well well um yeah um but it might not cost very much!”, he replied.
I proceeded to explain my displeasure with the “genius”, firmly, but politely. I explained, calmly, that a $4,500 laptop that fails in 3 years and 3 months is defective. Period. I explained to him that a chip on the mainboard was known to be defective, and that Apple had admitted as much. I was calm, but at this point, I think my temper was starting to show, because I could feel that telltale flushness in my face.
I thought about turning around and going into an anti-Apple tirade, complete with profanity-laden warnings to any and all who dare make themselves the next iSucker.
Instead, I turned around, and I looked at the packed store of people playing with their new toys. I surveyed the area directly behind me, where a mother and two toddlers were sitting on a ball, playing some kind of jigsaw-puzzle game on an iMac.
I turned back to the “genius”, reached over, pulled the store power cord out of my machine, grabbed my computer, and walked away.
As I was walking toward the door, the man who had been in line in front of me, the one whose 17” had also died — stormed out, muttering angrily under his breath.
Another satisfied customer.
So, here I sit with a dead 17” MacBook Pro. A computer which cost me $5,100, and one which has been outlasted by every plastic whitebox PC and laptop I’ve ever owned.
In my three years of Mac ownership, I still find myself looking for that which inspires so much loyalty. Personally, the entire experience has been quite disappointing. Now, Apple has stuck me with roughly five thousand dollars of defective hardware, and they want even more of my money.
Since my machine will not boot, which is often the case with a dead soldered-to-motherboard GPU, Apple can neither prove nor disprove that the 8600M GT in my machine is dead. This being the case, they have taken the position that they are not responsible for anything.
My position, however, is that since Apple shipped the machines with a defective GPU, and failed to recall them when the defect was discovered, the benefit of the doubt should go to the customer. It is unconscionable for the burden of proof to be placed on the consumer, who through absolutely no fault of their own, were issued defective machines.
After all, we know with relative certainty that if the chip has not already failed, that it will at some point. Even if my machine were working flawlessly today, both NVIDIA and Apple have nonetheless conceded that the GPU is defective. This being the case, Apple has a legal obligation to replace every defective GPU shipped to customers since they are the ones who sold the machines.
They won’t, though. Such a move would anger shareholders.
So, how to proceed?
Well, I currently have three options:
1) Represent myself in small claims court and take my chances.
My damages will be topped off somewhere between $5,000-$10,000, but the suit will cost far less money to initiate, and I can do it myself.
Since Apple is arguably the most customer-hostile company on the planet, however, I’m sure they have a law firm in every city contracted to squash any consumer who dares challenge the behemoth. This, plus the big business slant of American courts means that my chances of winning are 20%, maybe 30%.
Then again, I have a pretty good track record in pro-se litigation … so perhaps we could bump that up to 40%.
2) Seek representation in a higher court.
Fraud, misrepresentation, violations of the law of implied merchantability … when a company distributes equipment known to be defective to millions of customers, they should be punished in excess of a single machine replacement. This path will require an attorney, but things such as punitive damages could be awarded.
3) Seek representation for a class action suit.
This is actually attractive, because I wouldn’t just be helping myself, I’d also be helping a lawyer who is already rich, get even richer. And really, isn’t this the American dream?
Oh sure, I’d love to fashion myself as a champion of the people, getting free replacement computers for everyone with a defective 8600M GT, but I’m realistic. Were I to win, I know that most of you would get nothing more than a free Ke$ha download from iTunes.
Still, as a deterrent, a class-action suit would have more teeth than a small claims or moderate claims lawsuit. It might not pay off for people who have already been ripped off by Apple, but it could prevent a similar thing from happening in the future.
The next time, maybe, just maybe, the company will issue a proper recall instead of just sticking people with defective machines and playing the warranty-failure lottery.
Either way, my first step will be to send a certified demand for payment directly to Apple sometime this week. If they issue me a refund check or a replacement machine, then of course I will have no basis for a suit. Honestly, this would be my overwhelming preference. If I know Apple, however, and I think I do … I’m not going to get anything. They’ll either fail to reply or invite me to go pound sand.
Ten days after my demand has been issued and ignored, I will then have a decision to make. 1, 2, or 3.
I’m not sure which one I will choose, but I promise you one thing: I will choose one of them. I am going to pursue this to the very end.
I’ll keep you updated along the way.
At the very least, if you ever decide to make your own stand against a huge, multi-billion dollar corporation, you’ll know what you’re in for.