Apple Hit With Multiple iPhone 4 Lawsuits

Apple faces class action suits from Maryland, Texas, California.

July 2, 2010, 11:48 AM

July 2, 2010— -- Just a week after the international launch of Apple's iPhone 4, which the company recently touted as the most successful rollout in its history, Apple is facing multiple lawsuits filed in U.S. courts seeking class-action status over reception issues.

In Maryland, two iPhone 4 owners filed a suit against Apple and AT&T Wednesday, accusing the companies of negligence, misrepresentation and other alleged offenses. In Texas, a similar suit was filed Tuesday against Apple. And in California, between Tuesday and Wednesday, three separate suits were filed against the Cupertino, Calif., tech company.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment and when contacted by, an A&T spokeswoman said the company didn't have a comment at this time.

The filings are from iPhone 4 owners who say that holding the phone in a certain way blocks the external antenna, leading to dropped calls and reception issues.

While the old phone had an internal antenna, the new model has an external one. According to tech bloggers and iPhone users, call reception apparently drops when the user's palm covers the bottom left corner of the phone.

After the first complaints started surfacing online, Apple quickly responded, releasing a statement that said, "Gripping any phone will result in some attenuation of its antenna performance, depending on the placement of the antennas."

The company today released another statement on the iPhone 4 reception issue. Apple repeated its claim that gripping any phone in certain ways could reduce reception, but said it was surprised to learn that its phone was overstating signal strength.

"Upon investigation, we were stunned to find that the formula we use to calculate how many bars of signal strength to display is totally wrong. Our formula, in many instances, mistakenly displays 2 more bars than it should for a given signal strength," the company said. Apple said it would release a free software update in a few weeks to fix the problem.

Law Firms Launch Investigations Into iPhone 4 Antenna Problems

Earlier this week, a California law firm raised the specter of a class action suit when it issued a call for customers experiencing the widely discussed antenna issue.

After the Sacramento firm Kershaw, Cutter & Ratinoff LLP received more than 1,000 responses from iPhone 4 customers, it said it filed a suit Tuesday against Apple and AT&T in the North District of California.

"If the case resolves in favor of iPhone 4 customers on a class-wide basis, each member of the class will receive formal notice of the case under the supervision of the court that oversees the case," the firm said on its blog.

According to Bloomberg, a New Jersey resident and a Massachusetts resident also filed separate complaints Wednesday in federal court in San Francisco.

Daniel Ward, an attorney with Ward & Ward PLLC in Washington, DC, told that a customer inquiry preceded the Apple lawsuit his firm filed Wednesday in Maryland.

The complaint, filed by Ward's firm and Charles A. Gilman, LLC, based in Timonium, Maryland, names two Maryland plaintiffs, Kevin McCaffrey and Linda Wrinn, and alleges that Apple sold iPhone 4 owners "defective" devices.

The plaintiffs maintain that Apple should discontinue sales and marketing until the defect has been fixed. They seek an undisclosed amount of damages.

"Apple, and most likely AT&T, knew that this product was defective when they marketed and sold it," Ward said. "We're looking for them to fix the phone or provide a suitable solution."

The new design, which features an external antenna, was a major Apple talking point when the company first unveiled the device. But he said that what was intended to be the phone's greatest benefit has turned out to be its greatest defect.

Though he declined to specify how much his clients would seek in financial damages, he said that given the expense of the phone, plus the monthly data and voice plans from AT&T, they are "not insubstantial."

Multiple iPhone 4 Lawsuits Could Be Combined

Danny Sheena, an attorney with The Sheena Law Firm in Houston, Texas, said his firm filed suit Tuesday after a local iPhone 4 owner approached them with complaints. Though the suit names just one plaintiff, Hung Michael Nguyen, Sheena said the firm has been contacted by five others who have asked to join the class.

Similar to the others, Sheena's complaint alleges that Apple sold customers a phone it knew was defective.

"The goal is for Apple to do the right thing and fix the problem – not just for our clients but for everybody," Sheena said.

He also said that the multiple lawsuits could be combined before a multidistrict litigation panel for part of the process.

Despite the outcry from consumers and this latest legal complaint, tech analysts familiar with previous iPhone launches say Apple will find a way to work through this as they have in the past.

"With every launch of a new iPhone, we have teething problems," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

In 2005, Apple compensated some owners of first- and second-generation iPods with $50 of in-store credit or $25 cash to settle one of its earliest class-action suits over the batteries in an older edition of the iPod. It also faced lawsuits over its first-generation iPhone in 2007 and its 3G iPhone in 2008.

Apple typically leads with design and then follows with engineering, Enderle said, which can lead to glitches.

"This is one of the risks Apple takes with its approach and they're definitely willing to take that risk," he said. "I think Apple will work through this - they typically do - [though] this is a little tougher product launch than we've seen in the past. But a year from now, we'll probably forget it."