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Dell Laptop Burns House Down 405

Nuclear Elephant writes "The Consumerist is running a story about a house burned down by a Dell laptop. 'My 130-year-old former farm house was engulfed in flames, with thick dark smoke pouring out of the windows and roof... Hours later, after investigation the fire marshal investigator took me aside asked me if I had a laptop computer. Yes — I told him I had a Dell Inspiron 1200.' It was determined that the laptop, battery, or cord malfunctioned after its owner left for work, leaving the fire to spread through the entire house. All attempts to contact Dell have failed. 'I have tried to call Dell to at least notify them of my problems, but each time I have called I get transferred into an endless loop of "Joe" or "Alan" all speaking a delectable version of English I presume emanates from Bangalore. I have been outright hung up on each time I get someone who speaks a reasonable version of English, or sounds like they might be in charge of something. Promises of call backs have gone, of course, unreturned.'"
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Dell Laptop Burns House Down

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  • Pshaw! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Bwana Geek ( 1033040 ) on Sunday February 11, 2007 @12:51AM (#17969128) Journal
    That's nothing... An iPod killed my family!
    • Re:Pshaw! (Score:5, Funny)

      by wirelessbuzzers ( 552513 ) on Sunday February 11, 2007 @12:53AM (#17969134)
      Well, we knew from the beginning that the iPod was Apple's killer app.
    • Re:Pshaw! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Bin_jammin ( 684517 ) <> on Sunday February 11, 2007 @01:05AM (#17969250)
      That's nothing, a single mp3 put my whole family in the poorhouse.
  • Ouch (Score:2, Funny)

    by somekids ( 1047140 )
    And we thought the exploding batteries were bad..
  • by edwardpickman ( 965122 ) on Sunday February 11, 2007 @12:54AM (#17969146)
    Burning Down the House may have been a poor choice for a new a theme song.
  • by crankyspice ( 63953 ) on Sunday February 11, 2007 @12:54AM (#17969148)

    Dell's a corporation. They're either a Texas or a Delaware corp. (Probably Texas.) They'll be registered with whatever the local equivalent of the secretary of state's office is. They'll have provided the name and address of a person or agency authorized by them to receive service of process (in the event they're sued or something). Send a certified letter to that person/agency. You'll get someone's attention right quick, without plowing through India.

    You might also think about talking to a tort lawyer. From what I got from this article, you've probably got a pretty good consumer products liability claim. (Even if you're not interested in pursuing it, whomever insured your farm house -- it was insured, right? -- is probably interested in recouping their loss. And, enough of these exploding Dells have made the news of late, it might force Dell to be substantially more careful when designing their next round of laptops... But, then, I'm a trial lawyer, that's how I think. :)

    Good luck, sorry to hear about your loss!

    • Excellent advice. OP should make sure to get documentation from the fire marshall/department and provide this to his/her insurance company.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Is this the first Slashdot IAAL post?
    • bwoop, bwoop (Score:5, Informative)

      by Beryllium Sphere(tm) ( 193358 ) on Sunday February 11, 2007 @01:18AM (#17969324) Homepage Journal
      >You might also think about talking to a tort lawyer.

      The parent, being an attorney, may be taking for granted that everyone knows about coordinating with insurance companies.

      Read your policy, and look for fine print about attempting to recover damages on your own. You could seriously alienate your insurance carrier if you made a misstep in the legal system that blocked their chance of recovering money using their own lawyers.
    • Just curious... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by AEton ( 654737 ) on Sunday February 11, 2007 @01:52AM (#17969544)
      When you write "Good luck, sorry to hear about your loss!", to whom exactly are you saying that? The person who posted this Slashdot article isn't the same as the person who submitted content to the blog that Slashdot links to. You're talking to a wall, in other words, and odds are pretty high that the consumerist poster will never read these comments.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by massysett ( 910130 )
      Read the paperwork that comes with any Dell. There is an arbitration clause. Whether a court would enforce it is another question, and maybe suing them would still get their attention. But it's another hurdle to jump through.
  • Dell Tech Support? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jkj5301 ( 660159 ) on Sunday February 11, 2007 @12:55AM (#17969156)
    So what do you want "Alan" to do about it? Send another replacement parts?
  • by c0d3h4x0r ( 604141 ) on Sunday February 11, 2007 @12:56AM (#17969172) Homepage Journal
    This is the new combined security and power-save model in Vista. Your PC can't get infected by spyware, no one can hack your home network, and you won't use any power, if the computer just burns the whole place to the ground.

    I think it's in the Screen Saver settings someplace:

    "[x] Enter Burn-House-to-Ground mode after [ 30 ] minutes of inactivity."
    • Enter Burn-House-to-Ground mode after [ 30 ] minutes of inactivity

      Try to connect to home through your VPN and get computer on fire instead of printer on fire []

    • This feature has been around in *NIX since at least the '40s. I can't believe M$ is just now catching up with the rest of the computing world! I mean seriously, how difficult is it to issue an HCF [] instruction?
  • Slashdot fixed it! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Turn-X Alphonse ( 789240 ) on Sunday February 11, 2007 @12:56AM (#17969174) Journal
    I had some problems with getting Dell to complete my order (some recovery CDs were missing). I posted about it on Slashdot a few months back and got a reply from a US Dell employeee telling me to drop him a line and he'd help fix it (I'm in the UK) and try to his word after a couple of phone calls everything was sorted out and dandy.

    So before everyone starts ragging on Dell, remember there are at least a couple of good apples there.
    • by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Sunday February 11, 2007 @01:15AM (#17969312) Homepage Journal

      So before everyone starts ragging on Dell, remember there are at least a couple of good apples there.

      I used to know a guy who worked for the local council cutting grass. One day he was driving to a job and noticed someone trying to cut a big site full of high grass with a small domestic lawn mower. He stopped, unloaded the slasher, did the job as a favour and was on his way in five minutes.

      All was fine until the guy with the mower called the council to publicly thank the employee who had helped him, wherupon all hell broke lose.

      So whatever you do don't ring Dell to report this guy for being good. Dell don't want to be good and we should judge the company by its official actions, despite the fact that 99% of the people who work there are nice people who rescue kittens, etc.

      • The lesson here: No good deed goes unpunished, so if you're gonna do a good deed, be sure to do it anonymously. :-)
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          Fixing someone's computer and/or order is one thing. Using a piece of machinery capable of flinging metal, rocks and glass 500 feet is another. Here in the USA, the government office would have been worried about being sued if that mower kicked a rock up and smashed someone's windshield, causing them to fly off the road at 70mph to a gruesome death. Unauthorized work isn't covered by insurance, and that includes favors.

          The "could haves" rule in the world of insurance (refuse to pay) and injury law (award
  • their advertisements by "blazing fast processor speeds"

    But seriously, I hope that Dell will offer to pay for things if this guy has no insurance even if for no other reason than good PR. A new laptop would be nice too - ha ha.
  • by BugDoomBug ( 965033 ) <> on Sunday February 11, 2007 @12:57AM (#17969182) Homepage
    At this point I believe the best thing would be to call a lawyer who has experience handling cases such as this. While this one is possibly a first, I am sure there are a slew of them out there who specialize in suing companies due to damage caused by faulty manufacturing or defective parts.

    In the event that this was not faulty manufacturing or parts, for example if the man frayed his cord and left it damaged, then he doesn't have a leg to stand on, otherwise it should be pretty straight forward if it shows it in the report on the fire.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Dhalka226 ( 559740 )

      otherwise it should be pretty straight forward if it shows it in the report on the fire.

      Not necessarily. In issues of civil tort, liability can be proportioned among different parties. For example, if somebody dashed into the street to get a ball and was hit by a car driven by a man who was busy tuning his radio at the time, they might decide that the accident was 60% the driver's fault and 40% the victim's.

      In this case, if I am not mistaken, these batteries were recalled months ago. A good lawyer--a

  • by BiggerIsBetter ( 682164 ) on Sunday February 11, 2007 @12:57AM (#17969186)
    I know it's not a model listed on the [] website, but they do state many batteries were sent out as replacements too. Guess it'll be difficult to read the battery pack serial number now...
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by scdeimos ( 632778 )

      I know it's not a model listed on the [] website, but they do state many batteries were sent out as replacements too.

      Dell records the serial numbers on every single item they send out - computers, power bricks, batteries, software bundles - it's all there on their pick lists. Why is it that consumers have to contact Dell to find out if a particular item is under Recall status, why aren't Dell actively contacting them?

  • I would like to know if the battery in the defective unit was one of the batteries subject to recall. If it was, then the owner bears some responsibility.

    But more than this, the maker of the battery was likely of Sony origin and quality.

    And really, what is Dell supposed to say to claims of "you've burned my house down?"
    • by hwyengr ( 839340 ) on Sunday February 11, 2007 @01:08AM (#17969272)

      And really, what is Dell supposed to say to claims of "you've burned my house down?"

      "Dude, you're getting a fire extinguisher!"
    • 1200 didn't ship with Sony batteries - something or other made in China, not Japan.
    • by Foerstner ( 931398 ) on Sunday February 11, 2007 @01:26AM (#17969374)
      Let's get this one out of the way first: the Inspiron 1200 was not one of the models listed in the recall program. []

      I would like to know if the battery in the defective unit was one of the batteries subject to recall. If it was, then the owner bears some responsibility.

      IANAL (and this is not legal advice, yadda yadda...) but I think that, in order to prove that in court, you'd have to prove that A) the battery was one of the Sony recalled batteries B) The customer could reasonably be expected to have been aware that the battery in his laptop was one of the recalled batteries C) Despite knowing that the battery was dangerous and subject to recall, the customer did nothing to get a replacement

      But more than this, the maker of the battery was likely of Sony origin and quality.
      Which would only add a co-defendant in the lawsuit, if the guy were to go down that road.

      And really, what is Dell supposed to say to claims of "you've burned my house down?"

      Excellent point. If someone accused me of that, all I'd say is, "No comment." The next thing I'd say is, "Let's talk confidential settlement. Howzabout I give you a million dollars for your house, without admitting any liability?"
    • And really, what is Dell supposed to say to claims of "you've burned my house down?"

      How about, "We take our responsibilities seriously and will be more than glad to compensate you if we are truly at fault, but we will require some proof that this was really due to a defect in our product."? And when provided with solid proof, they should say, "Please supply us with documentation of your house's value, and tell us where we should send the check."

  • by pilsner.urquell ( 734632 ) on Sunday February 11, 2007 @01:05AM (#17969246)
    Let the insurance company handle it. That is what you pay them for, they don't want to pay the claim themselves and the insurance company has the deep pockets to cover legal fees.
  • A humble suggestion (Score:5, Informative)

    by Androclese ( 627848 ) on Sunday February 11, 2007 @01:06AM (#17969260)

    First and foremost, I am sorry for the loss of your home. The best suggestion I can give you is:

    Get a copy of the Fire Marshal's report that specifies the source of the fire being the laptop in question, deliver it to your insurance company, and then go talk to a lawyer.

    It sucks, but as an individual, you have less a chance of gaining the attention of the company in question (never mind the /. post) than the lawyer pool of your insurance company will.

    Good Luck

  • by RulerOf ( 975607 ) on Sunday February 11, 2007 @01:08AM (#17969264)
    At first glance I had thought this was the poster child for what could go wrong with the ill fated battery debacle that Dell and others had gone through, but, FTA:

    I told him I had a Dell Inspiron 1200.

    His model isn't on Dell's official list [] of affected models. So, one wonders, was it the "laptop, battery, or cord" that started the fire? I would imagine that if the cord wasn't severely mangled, and assuming the laptop itself didn't have a very serious manufacturing flaw (that probably would have prevented it from working in the first place), perhaps the transformer was at fault.

    Reading the article though, I found it very... unsatisfying. It seems more that the real news is the writer's inability to get any meaningful correspondence with Dell about this particular issue... but then again, that isn't really news.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by v1 ( 525388 )
      I've dealt with several computer defect issues in the past, and have been on the "front lines" of getting a recall announced. Computer manufacturers will do everything they can to avoid a recall because it costs them a tremendous amount of money and causes a lot of consumers that are not actually experiencing a problem to file for the recall and get an unnecessary replacement. Case in point, I was working on one model of computer and I recognized the now well-known "bulging capacitor" issue, but this was
  • No surprise... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by evilviper ( 135110 ) on Sunday February 11, 2007 @01:11AM (#17969288) Journal
    I imagine this has happened many times before. It can just be hard to narrow down the cause to a single source.

    5 years ago, 6 out of 100 of our new 17" Dell monitors went up in flames, over the first 3 months. This was fortunately an office building with very high ceilings, so there was little risk. I've long imagined just how bad that could have been in a private home, with a low ceiling, and wall nearby. That experience alone stopped me from ever buying anything from Dell.

    All the articles on Notebook fires are very old news. Dell's been having fire problem with their entire product range for about the past 10 years. Passing it off as Sony's fault ignores Dell's long history of similar ocurances with all of their machines.

    Since it happened to me, I've been wonder when I'd hear about a class action against Dell, but it's never been forthcoming. I guess residential building fires can cover up the evidence pretty well. Sooner or later, it's going to have to come out.
  • You're never going to get compensation from Dell by calling them on the phone. There're not going to give you the time of day until they get served. Seriously. Start shopping around for a lawyer who has some experience with tech companies and or liability cases.
  • Why bother? (Score:4, Informative)

    by binaryspiral ( 784263 ) on Sunday February 11, 2007 @01:24AM (#17969360)
    Why do you want to talk to Dell?

    This is why you get a lawyer and let him/her to the leg work... this is going to turn into a legal issue anyway, why screw it up before it starts by giving Dell some words or description of the events that they can use against you.

    All it takes is one "maybe" or "possibly" or "it could have been the cat" and your case is gone with your house.

    You posted this on /. - you should be safe, nobody reads this.
    • Please refrain from impugning our client regarding this incident, or we will be forced to take action against you.

      The Law Offices of Fluffy, Lightning, and Mr Jingles

  • battery recall? (Score:2, Informative)

    by mrtexe ( 1032978 ) *
    I don't see the Inspiron 1200 on the list Dell maintains regarding their battery recall program. []

    This new incident raises a lot of questions. Power cord? Battery? Origin of battery? Etc.

  • How is this automatically Dell's fault?
    • They've got deep pockets, and /. group think irrationally favors Apple. In some pot induced wet dream, Apple is a believable competitor to both a) Dell and b) PCs. Just mentally mod down these things to -1 Fanboi
  • Insurance (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SamBeckett ( 96685 ) on Sunday February 11, 2007 @01:32AM (#17969416)
    Presumably you have insurance? If so, this little stunt could cost you your claim...

    Insurance policies have a clause in it re: subrogation. E.g. If Dell is really at fault--the insurance company will pay you directly, and then go after Dell for the money..

    BUT your policy also has a clause in it saying that you must not do anything to obstruct the insurance company's ability to subrogate. This little slashdot stunt and posting your story online may just do that.. You may have fscked yourself twice over.

  • When Dell recalled its Inspiron power supplies last year (or the year before?) I found that I had two that matched model#/serial# ranges. I used the Dell web for getting an RMA for each one. I never heard anything more from Dell, certainly nothing to return them.

    But then, I don't live in a 130 year old farmhouse. Maybe that means I'm still covered by the warranty, so they're not replacing mine.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 11, 2007 @01:38AM (#17969462)
    I wonder if this is a hoax. The Portland News site does not say anything about the cause of the fire. It does not even name the owner of the house. All we have is some guy named Dan (no last name) writing a letter to a blog claiming a Dell laptop burned down his house. Has anyone bothered to check the facts?
  • by bgfay ( 5362 ) on Sunday February 11, 2007 @01:42AM (#17969484) Homepage
    This may have happened, but the whole thing sounds like a load of crap. It's the sort of thing that usually arrives in my email inbox with "FWD" appended to it.

    Seriously, has this been sourced?
  • by westlake ( 615356 ) on Sunday February 11, 2007 @01:44AM (#17969494)
    I had left the laptop in sleep mode with the lid closed on the edge of the sofa in the living room

    I'll take the odds that the sofa was the most flammable piece of furniture in his house. We do this all the time, but still...we should know better. I would probably also be asking whether there were functioning smoke detectors or a more sophisticated alarm system in place. Something very basic, but, again, too easily forgotten.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by novakreo ( 598689 )

      I'll take the odds that the sofa was the most flammable piece of furniture in his house. We do this all the time, but still...we should know better. I would probably also be asking whether there were functioning smoke detectors or a more sophisticated alarm system in place. Something very basic, but, again, too easily forgotten.

      What good would a smoke detector do when an unoccupied house is going up in flames?
  • Duh! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Derek Loev ( 1050412 ) on Sunday February 11, 2007 @02:05AM (#17969598)
    He obviously forgot to install a "firewall".
    ... Ok, I'm leaving.
  • Something fishy... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Ochobee ( 672000 ) on Sunday February 11, 2007 @02:10AM (#17969616)
    Part of that account by the owner of the house sounds a bit funny to me:

    "Hours later, after investigation the fire Marshall investigator took me aside asked me if I had a laptop computer. Yes -- I told him I had a Dell Inspiron 1200..."

    Since when does the fire department conduct an investigation into a fire that determines the source within hours of the fire taking place. Especially with something that would be hard to determine- such as the fire being started by an electronic device that presumably would have been fairly well destroyed if it was as small as a laptop and made of the less than tough plastic and other materials that laptops are made of. The account seems to be fairly short on details to be pointing the finger at Dell. And as others have pointed out- why isn't this guy calling his insurance company instead of Dell? They are the ones who would be paying him for the house.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Ochobee ( 672000 )
      And after following the link in the Consumerist article to a local news story about the incident it says officials are trying to determine the cause of the fire. So which one is the real story?
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Without actually seeing the scene, it's hard to presume the laptop would be destroyed. Consider the possibility that it sparked for a few seconds, lighting curtains or polyurethane. The flames may have traveled up and left the laptop alone where it was buried under just enough debris to shield it a little, and it was identifiable within a few minutes as "probably a laptop." Fire marshals are trained to ID the source of a fire and I imagine they can narrow it down to a 10-foot area within an hour if the c
  • I'm Canadian, but I got to school in India. Almost everyone I meet speaks amazing English, with just a little bit of an accent. These are all people who are from Bombay or Bangalore, never left the country before (at least to go as far as North America) and havde really good technical skills. Yet instead of picking the well-educated, English-speaking middle class, these call centres instead hire slum dwellers and give them names like "Frank", and attempt to teach them how to speak like us. This training cos
  • Good luck! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Boltronics ( 180064 ) on Sunday February 11, 2007 @02:29AM (#17969720) Homepage
    I purchased a Dell XPS 1210 in Australia in November last year, with 3 Years (CompleteCover Guard) Theft insurance. I was typing on the laptop while sitting down at a local restaurant at a fancy part of town, when two big guys came running past the table and grabbed the laptop from behind.

    I chased the thieves two blocks before they were able to give me the slip. The whole thing was on security camera (in daylight), and the police informed me that they had a clear picture of the entire incident.

    When I reported the incident to Dell, they replied to me the next day via e-mail and said that my claim was rejected because there was no sign of force to the premises. I was stunned, and so went to read the policy. Yes, it said that "Theft of attempted theft not accompanied by forcible and violent entry" was excluded. I then noticed that the policy on the Dell website was somewhat different to the policy provided to me via hardcopy, but they both had a similar clause.

    Finally, I decided that if they wanted to get technical, I'd do the same. After carefully reading *both* policies, I noticed that they both had wording similar to "CompleteCover Service is only available with the purchase of a Dell Latitude or Inspiron portable computer, or Dimension or Optiplex or Precision desktop computer, or Axim PDA (The "Product") but is not necessary that you purchase CompleteCover Service to buy a Product from us."

    So what did I purchase? Obviously they had no document explaining exclusions for my XPS, since it appears they didn't have a valid policy!

    At one point, I was verbally informed that XPS was a Latitude. When I captured many screenshots of the website as evidence against this, Dell denied that this was ever stated.

    There were a few other arguable points I could have made, but in the end Dell just wouldn't listen. I only ever spoke to call centers in Asia where the accent was so thick it was hard to understand. I had one e-mail admit there might be a problem with the policy and they will try to fix it in the near future, and many apologies, but every e-mail always quoted "There was no theft of attempted theft not accompanied by forcible and violent entry". E-mails were sometimes hard to read due to invalid sentence structure.

    I have been advised not to try and fight this. I am quite broke (my wife is out of work, I am on a small income and only just paid the stolen laptop off), and feel powerless to do anything. I feel the best I can do is encourage people not to purchase anything from Dell. It sure seems like I'm not the only one with a bad experience.

  • There were a bunch of lawsuits over house fires started by TV sets in the 60s. I guess it's been so long ago, most of todays corporate executives have forgotten. I reckon they'll be gettig a reminder real soon.
  • Some advice (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Giro d'Italia ( 124843 ) on Sunday February 11, 2007 @02:39AM (#17969784)
    First, STFU in public about what happened. Not online, definitely not to the news media. Anything you say, especially if you speculate as to the cause, could come back to haunt you if this ever goes to trial.

    Repeat "no comment" to yourself aloud a few hundred times to get used to it.

    Next, call your insurance company. Let them sort it out. Let their lawyers fight it out with Dell if the laptop is determined to be the cause.

    We don't let lawyers write code, by the same token, you shouldn't try to handle this with Dell yourself. You shouldn't be contacting them at all.
  • ...that the microprocessor encountered the HCF opcode, halted, and promptly caught fire.

  • You should check out the section in Home Depot called "concrete board." Most accounts say that concrete doesn't burn.

    After getting my hands on some real construction materials, it's not clear to me why anyone's house should burn. That may not save you, but it's a warning to others.
  • > "speaking a delectable version of English"

    This sounds like some sort of sex line to me... when I think of delectable English, I imagine Liz Hurley on the other end of the line telling me what color and type of underwear she has on.

    Of course, the absolute irony of the original blogger complaining about anyone's diction and grammar is almost as delicious, I suppose. ;-)
  • Not giving a straight answer.

    In most cases, a customer would prefer to have a straight answer that they do not like over a run around and the possibility of compensation dangled in their face forever. Certainly they'd most like to get compensated when they think they should be, but if it comes down to it, what they want most is a straight answer as to what will be done about their case.

    I've seen it where I work and from companies I've called... reps are scared shitless of giving an answer the customer won't like, so they pussyfoot around it. Screw that noise. It's demeaning to the rep to have to do that, and in almost every case it only pisses the customer off even more. It is quite possible to deliver bad news in a way that is both polite and direct. They are screwed anyways, no need to make it worse by giving them a huge runaround.

...there can be no public or private virtue unless the foundation of action is the practice of truth. - George Jacob Holyoake