Ontario man seeks class-action status for Dell Inspiron lawsuit

In the wake of two American lawsuits launched against a handful of Dell’s Inspiron notebooks, a group of Canadians have also leveled their own lawsuit, alleging that their purchases suffer from massive overheating and failure-prone motherboards.

Rochon Genova LLP filed the lawsuit, which seeks free repairs or replacement machines from Dell Canada, with the Ontario Superior Court this week on behalf of lead plaintiff Thad Griffin. It applies to Inspiron models 1100, 1150, 5100, 5150, and 5160. A self-employed leasing broker, he leased an Inspiron 5150 notebook from Dell in mid-2004; the model suffered from extreme overheating, which made it impossible to place on his lap, he said.

“I could only use it as a desktop,” he said. Approximately six months after the yearlong warranty ran out, according to Griffin, his laptop stopped working altogether in January 2006. “I told (Dell) what was wrong and they immediately told me that I needed a new motherboard. They’d seen it before,” said Griffin.

Griffin went online, where he managed to dig up many Web sites, discussion threads, chats, and blogs — including Dell’s own customer forums, he said — where other users also complained of overheating and motherboard issues, and their Inspiron notebooks only lasting a few months beyond the warranty. There, the consensus was thus: the five models’ c-panel (which opens to give access to the modem and wireless card) has two prongs that stick up on the inside, according to Griffin, and if you don’t pick up the computer by holding it on both sides, the chassis flexes, causing the prongs to dig into a chip on the motherboard.

The infrastructure aspect of the problem especially irked Griffin — he thinks that, even if he had replaced the motherboard, another one would have been required down the road once the prongs had once again done their damage.

Partner Research senior IT industry analyst Michelle Warren, however, that, said that in theory, in the 12 to 15 months since users had acquired the machine, new technologies would have become available, allowing perhaps for a more permanent fix. “It really depends on the set-up and how much room there is in there, but more fans or a dual-core chip that gives off less heat could make it work,” she said.

According to Warren, laptops overheating is a relatively common occurrence. “With all those parts placed so close together, it’s a constant challenge all manufacturers face,” she said.

Motherboards dying, though, she said, not only would annoy consumers, but could impact small to medium sized businesses, too, as they would need to replace the notebook and also deal with accessing backed-up information — if there is any — from the server, which would definitely impact productivity.

“I wouldn’t say it was Dell’s intent (to make purposely shoddy parts). I think they were built to minimum standards,” Griffin said.

These problems were what netted American law firm Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann & Bernstein (LCHB) a victory in its class-action lawsuit against Dell and the same model that Griffin owned. Lundell vs. Dell, which was targeted toward the 5150 model exclusively, was filed in September 2005, and was officially settled in December 2006, according to LCHB partner Jonathan Selbin. Plaintiffs there, too, cited insufficient cooling systems and premature failure of the motherboard and power supply.

Since they had noted that other models — the other four models in the Canadian case-had the same problems, LCHB approached Dell about lumping them all together in the suit. “But Dell only wanted to settle that (model). We guess that they viewed the other models as somewhat different, but from our view, they experiences the exact same difficulties,” said Selbin. Dell also declined LCHB’s offer to include Canadians in the settlement.

“(Lundell vs. Dell plaintiffs) received a new one-year warranty to cover the problem, and if they’d already paid for the repairs, Dell would reimburse that,” said Selbin, estimating that “thousands” of people have already taken Dell up on its offer.

His firm filed another class-action suit against Dell in October 2006 for plaintiffs with the four other troubled models. This time, Dell cashed in on a requirement in its contract with customers that its cannot be sued or engaged in a class-action suit and must instead go into binding arbitration. “In this way, Dell has successfully defeated a lot of other cases,” said Selbin. California, he said, has a law that makes this type of requirement unenforceable, so he’s concentrating on California-only plaintiffs at the moment.

The Superior Court should make its decision on whether to grant class-action status to the Canadian lawsuit in a few months.

Dell Canada did not return calls for comment.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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