Dell Faces Class Action Suit Over Notebook Defect

Just five months after it issued a massive recall of notebook computers because of defective batteries, Dell on Friday became the target of yet more legal problems involving its notebook equipment.

A group of Canadian consumers is suing Dell over what they allege are faulty Inspiron notebook machines — and this time, they say, Dell knew about the problems in advance.

Canadian purchasers of the Inspiron 1100, 1150, 5100, 5150 and 5160 models filed the suit in Ontario Superior Court, and have requested class action approval.

They charge that Round Rock, Texas-based Dell was negligent in the design of the notebooks, causing the machines to be susceptible to overheating and premature motherboard failure — frequently just after the expiration of the computers’ one-year warranty period.

Problems Not Unforeseeable

Dell should have known about the problems, they allege, and yet it chose to sell the computers anyway.

“I do not believe that I should be forced to spend hundreds of dollars to fix the defective motherboard, when Dell should have known about this problem at the time they initially sold the computer,” said Thad Griffin of Aurora, Ontario, the proposed representative plaintiff.

“We’re getting flooded by e-mails” from Canadian notebook consumers, added Joel Rochon, a partner at Toronto-based Rochon Genova, which is representing the plaintiffs and prospective class members. “It’s one of the strongest responses I’ve ever seen for a class action suit.”

Dell recently settled a similar action in the United States involving the Inspiron 5150, but litigation over the other four models continues.

The company endured a rough year in 2006, undergoing an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission into its past accounting practices.

Officials from Dell did not respond to TechNewsWorld’s requests for comment.

Question of Intent

There is some uncertainty over the suit’s ability to prove negligence on Dell’s part.

The legal case is going to have to prove not just that there are problems, but that Dell chose not to do something it should have done, Roger Kay, principal analyst at Endpoint Technologies, told TechNewsWorld.

“I think it will be difficult to prove negligence,” he commented.

“When you’re producing millions of machines, it doesn’t take many bad ones to create the appearance of a cluster,” Steve Kleynhans, research vice president of IT infrastucture operations at Gartner Group, told TechNewsWorld.

Yet, because most computer components today are used commonly across a variety of vendors, “it would be unusual to find a single vendor with a specific problem that wouldn’t be reflected in other vendors as well,” Kleynhans said. “It will be interesting to watch this one move through the courts — if it gets that far.”

Shares of Dell had fallen 31 US cents to $26.62 on Nasdaq by the close of the market on Friday.

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