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Dell's faulty PC legal woes worsen (again)

Ailing Optiplex? Lawyers feel your pain

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The ongoing legal imbroglio over Dell's allegedly defective Optiplex computers took another turn this week when a proposed class-action lawsuit broadened its scope.

The consumer-rights law firm of Hagens Berman LLP filed suit in August of last year on behalf of New York chiropractor Richard Statler, alleging that five Optiplex computers he had bought had defective motherboards due to bad Nichicon capacitors that "wreaked expensive and wasteful havoc".

This Thursday, Hagens Berman expanded their complaint to include "hard-disk drives, power supplies, fans, ICH5 chipsets, and DDR2 RAM." And yes, for those of you with good memories, the ICH5 is the Intel I/O chip that got into hot water last decade due to USB problems caused by its succeptibility to electrostatic discharge.

Dell shipped some 11.8 million OptiPlex computers from May 2003 to July 2005 that included potentially faulty components. One internal Dell document stated that the failure rate of one of the affected models could be as high as 97 per cent. According to Hagens Berman, Dell estimated that 8 million of 11.8 million units sold have faulty motherboards.

The expansion of Statler v Dell, Inc. comes after Hagens Berman lost a round in court. Dell filed a motion to dismiss each of Statler's four claims on February 11, and on March 30, Judge Leonard Wexler of the New York court dismissed two of them: a claim for "unjust enrichment" and any claim based allegations of a safety hazard.

Wexler did, however, allow Statler's two warranty-related claims to stand, saying that he didn't yet have suffient information about Dell's alleged concealment of the problem in this specific case. If Dell had indeed concealed the defects, the fact that the warranty's time period had expired could be set aside.

Wexler's caution is to be commended. After all, legal procedure is legal procedure – but documents in another case point to some rather shady Dell dealings.

That case was filed in 2007 in the District of North Carolina by Advanced Internet Technologies (AIT), a web-hosting company that bought over 2,000 Optiplex computers, then sued Dell when it found myriad problems arising from alleged motherboard, power supply, and CPU fan failures.

Documents from that case, unsealed in November of last year, showed that Dell not only knew of the problems, but had ranked customers by importance when deciding whether their faulty systems would be replaced.

The release of those documents followed allegations arising that August from email messages uncovered in the AIT case which showed Dell execs discussing how to play down the Optiplex problems. Dell settled with AIT in September.

Hagens Berman isn't backing down or settling – well, not yet, at least. In fact, they'd love to hear from you if your Optiplex "has exhibited frequent crashes, so-called blue screens of death, no-post issues, disk drive malfunctions, thermal failures, or is otherwise inoperable," they write.

If have an ailing Optipex that you bought between 2003 and 2006 – especially involving the GX270, SX270, and GX280 models – you can join Dr. Richard Statler in his effort to be a thorn in Michael Dell's side. ®

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