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Apple power brick sparks lawsuit

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A trio of plaintiffs has filed a class action suit against Apple, charging that although the company's much-touted MagSafe Adapter may be mag(netic), safe it ain't.

The complaint, filed in the US District Court in San José - a stone's throw from Apple's Cupertino campus - alleges that both the 85 watt (for the MacBook Pro) and 60 watt (for the MacBook) MagSafe Adapters have been negligently designed and manufactured. The cable to the power supply's connector, according to the suit, "dangerously frays, sparks, and prematurely fails to work."

The filing states that Apple is aware of the problem, but hasn't disclosed the Adapters' problems nor stopped manufacturing the little white bricks. As a result, the plaintiff and the class of MagSafe owners - which the filing states "likely number in the millions" - are stuck with "flawed and dangerous Adapters which prematurely fail and present fire hazards."

Apple, for its part, made the MagSafe one of the featured, um, features of the MacBook Pro when it introduced that laptop in January 2006. At the time, the company said: "The MagSafe power connector safely disconnects from the notebook when there is strain on the power cord, helping to prevent the notebook from falling off its work surface when the power cord is inadvertently yanked."

However, according to the three plaintiffs - Naotaka Kitagawa, Timothy Broad, and Jesse Reisman - even normal use of the adapter results in dangerous damage to its cord where it attaches to the magnetic plug.

Kitagawa claims that his MacBook Pro's adapter would cut power intermittently and that the connector then became frayed and the jacket over the wiring showed signs of melting and discoloration from heat.

Broad said that when he noticed that the cable was overheating, he'd been using his MacBook for 14 months and a day. "It almost burned my hand when I brushed it accidentally," he claims. As he watched, the cable began to melt, creating "a large hole in the cable." Fortunately, his Adapter shorted out and stopped working before, as he put it, his home "might have caught fire."

Reisman's experience was more mellow. He merely says that his Adapter became "noticeably hot" and developed exposed wires.

The plaintiffs also contend that the way that the cable is designed to wrap around the Adapter and clamp onto itself for neatness and security "causes undue stress, wear, and degradation."

They also point out that Apple has known about the Adapters' problems for nearly three years, but has done nothing about them. According to the complaint, over 1,000 reviews of the Adapter have been posted to Apple's online store, with the "vast majority" being "extremely negative, warning Apple over and over again about the hazards of the MagSafe Adapter." The filing then goes on to quote 21 of the most negative reviews.

The plaintiffs ask that the court order Apple to either provide a "safe, defect-free Adapter" - or refund the full purchase price of their laptops if Apple can't produce an acceptable unit - to all members of the aggrieved class. That would be anyone who owns a MacBook or MacBook Pro - oddly, the suit doesn't mention the essentially identical 45 watt Adapter for the MacBook Air. Perhaps it hasn't been around long enough to become suitably stressed out.

We've been down this road before. Back in 2001, Apple recalled and replaced 570,000 power adapters for the PowerBook G3. Then in May of last year, Apple reached a cash settlement with owners of what one Reg wag referred to as "Sparky the wonder adapter."

We're not mechanical nor electrical engineers, but is it that hard for the wizards of Cupertino to design and manufacture a laptop power adapter that doesn't come back and bite them in the legal bum?

It appears that it is. ®

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