As soon as the first complaints surfaced about the alleged fragility of the Apple iPhone 4's stylish glass case, you knew litigation was coming.
A California iPhone user, Donald LeBuhn, this week filed a class action suit in Los Angeles county against Apple. The suit claims that Apple knows about the design flaw in the glass case and refuses to warn users that routine use can result in a broken case.
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In this suit, LeBuhn says he paid $252 for a new iPhone 4 in September, upgrading from his existing 3GS model. Three weeks later, the glass broke after his daughter dropped it, about three feet to the ground, while texting. He says the 3GS endured similar drops without cracking the glass screen.
Complaints about the iPhone 4 glass began surfacing not long after the smartphone was released. Some said the glass was being scored by slide-on cases, and the scoring sometimes developed into a full-blown break. Last November, Apple suspended the sale of these slide-on accessories.
The controversy was fueled in September when a company that provides after-sale warranties for iPhones announced the iPhone 4 is "significantly more prone to physical damage" than the 3GS. The company, SquareTrade, reported that the new model has had 82% more shattered screen claims in its first four months than the iPhone 3GS did in the same time span during the summer of 2009.
Pundits have already pronounced the controversy "Glassgate," echoing the summer 2010 controversy, called "Antennagate," about how the iPhone 4's redesigned exterior antenna could be detuned when the phone was held normally.
When the iPhone 4 was unveiled in mid-2010, Apple trumpeted the strength of the new phone's glass casing: "20 times stiffer and 30 times harder than plastic." But in his lawsuit, LeBuhn argues that "Months after selling millions of iPhone 4s, Apple has failed to warn and continues to sell this product with no warning to customers that the glass housing is defective."
According to online reports, LeBuhn is seeking a refund of the phone's purchase price, reimbursement for any repair fees, and restitution for "overpayment in purchasing defective iPhone 4s." These amounts would be apply to everyone joining the class action.
John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.
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