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Apple Sued By State Farm Over Alleged iPhone Fire (cnet.com) 166

An anonymous reader quotes CNET: Insurer State Farm and one of its customers, Wisconsin resident Xai Thao, allege that one of Apple's older iPhones had a defective battery that led to a fire last year. A lawsuit filed on Thursday by both State Farm and Thao claims that her iPhone 4S "failed" and "started a fire at Thao's home." The lawsuit further claims that "preliminary investigations show evidence of a significant and localized heating event in the battery area of the iPhone." It also declares that there were "remnants of internal shorting, indicating that an internal failure of the iPhone's battery caused the fire"... The State Farm lawsuit says that Thao's iPhone was "in a defective and unreasonably dangerous condition" when she bought it in 2014. The suit is claiming in excess of $75,000 in damages.
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Apple Sued By State Farm Over Alleged iPhone Fire

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  • by HornWumpus ( 783565 ) on Sunday July 23, 2017 @04:32PM (#54863461)

    She bought the phone at least 4 months after it was discontinued (Sept 2013 per Wiki).

    Who did she buy the phone from?

    Who made the battery in it when it burned?

    WTF happened to /.? We all hate Apple and all, but this? Really? Kick the lawyer in the balls until he pukes.

    • Be fair - we were all over Samsung long before it was clear what the problem was.

      That's not to argue most of your points, though. We're talking about a model which was in millions of people's pockets for several years - whatever happened, it's obvious this is a rare occurrence and not something endemic.

      I also tend to be biased against anything State Farm is involved with, based on personal experience with the company. But let's see how the story develops, then decide.

      • Kick the CEO of State Farm in the balls until he pukes too.

      • Be fair - we were all over Samsung long before it was clear what the problem was.

        Could that have had anything to do with the fact that there were dozens of cases with brand new devices? No? Compared to one 2 year old phone that actually was bought after it was discontinued 3 years after introduction? One of a model that actually sold more in the first weekend than Note 7s were sold before it was discontinued? Yeah, be fair: Apple should recall the iPhone 4s too, because that's obviously an equivalent problem.

      • I would say a main difference is that the Samsung phones had battery issues very shortly after the product was first launched. This is phone (at best) was 2 years old before any battery issue occurred.
        • by jedidiah ( 1196 )

          I use a 10 year old digicam. We also happen to have an iPod2 that's still in working order. Should I expect these devices to start catching fire now that they are OLD. The fact that a product is moderately not-new by durable goods standards is no excuse to excuse any and all UCC (or other) liability over it.

          What happened to "Apple longevity"?

          • The point that was being made is that the phone isn't new. It's used. You can't testify to anything that happened to the phone like how it was treated. Unlike the Samsung incidents where the phones were very new and the cause unlikely to be wear, this is an older, used phone. And you do know that no manufacturer warranties their products forever.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      would not be surprised if it ends up being discovered that...

      the phone had a cheap knockoff battery installed a previous owner of the phone. an iphone that old, used regularly, would have needed a new battery long before the 'incident'; and/or the current owner and co-plaintiff was using a cheap knockoff charger.

      • by tsa ( 15680 )

        That thing is at most five years old. A Li-ion battery can easily hold out that long if treated right. All your other poitns are still valid however. But it can also just be dumb bad luck.

      • an iphone that old, used regularly, would have needed a new battery long before the 'incident';

        Not true. I had an iPhone 4 for far longer, and it was still on it's original battery when I retired it less than a year ago. I actually wiped it and let my daughters use it as a camera on our last vacation recently. It didn't hold as much charge as it use to, but was still definitely usable.

    • by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Sunday July 23, 2017 @05:39PM (#54863737) Homepage Journal

      She bought the phone at least 4 months after it was discontinued (Sept 2013 per Wiki).

      No, the iPhone 4s was discontinued in September of 2014 in the United States, and was still sold in some countries as late as 2016.

      • Specifically the iPhone 4S 8GB was discontinued in Sept 2014. The iPhone 4S 16GB was discontinued by Sept 2013. I'm guessing that is what OP is referring. It would be helpful to know which model the plaintiff had.
        • by dgatwood ( 11270 )

          By the time they discontinued the 16 GB model, it almost certainly wasn't selling very well. The folks who were buying such an old phone in 2014 were buying it because it was extremely inexpensive or free. Buyers who could afford to spend a hundred bucks more for 16 GB tended to instead spend that hundred bucks on upgrading to a 5c.

          • My point is that knowing the model would narrow down when the phone was originally sold and if the plaintiff bought the phone used. If in 2014 the plaintiff bought a phone which was already discontinued, did he or she buy it from Apple.
    • WTF happened to /.? We all hate Apple and all, but this? Really? Kick the lawyer in the balls until he pukes.

      Why are you picking on Slashdot when it's State Farm who is doing the suing? Slashdot is just reporting on the story by cnet.

    • by Khyber ( 864651 )

      "She bought the phone at least 4 months after it was discontinued (Sept 2013 per Wiki).

      Who did she buy the phone from?"

      Could've still been brand-new and unopened (TFS ain't mentioning that critical detail.) Plenty of people buy products and keep them in their unopened original packaging for the purpose of resale.

      • by HiThere ( 15173 )

        A reasonable point. It is worth remembering, however, that batteries will go bad over time even without being used. This isn't just ni-cads, it's all of them. If you leave them uncharged it tends to collapse the electrodes, and if they're full charged it tends to over expand them. I'm told this is why batteries are normally at 70% charge when you buy something, but that charge will leak off over the years.

        So it seems plausible to me that even if there weren't manufacturing defects, and the device was un

    • by mTor ( 18585 )

      WTF happened to /.?

      After the last sale of /., this site became an even bigger mess. Before the sale, Timothy used to post bullshit stories all the time but now they have Beau and David constantly shitposting the biggest crap they can come across. It's BS leftist ideology 24/7.

      I rarely even visit the site anymore. It's become really bad.

    • by Z00L00K ( 682162 )

      The root cause here is that LiIon batteries are time bombs waiting to go off regardless of brand and manufacturer.

    • It is possible it was still new; it might have been on sale as the phone was discontinued as someone was clearing out their inventory. There are a lot of questions about this case which have not been answered.
    • The lawsuit further claims that "preliminary investigations show evidence of a significant and localized heating event in the battery area of the iPhone."

      Yeah, when the battery caught fire sitting on a burning table inside a burning house, it burned hotter than the wooden table, creating a 'hotspot'.

      It also declares that there were "remnants of internal shorting, indicating that an internal failure of the iPhone's battery caused the fire"...

      And these 'shorts' were found after the fire, after the phone essentially melted, and were determined to be manufacturing defects how, exactly? Because there was no insulation on the wires? Hello! The phone was in a fire...

      It was more likely a crappy "Five Below" charger that burst into flames, not the iPhone that worked fine for who knows how long before purport

  • Not a surprise (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mr D from 63 ( 3395377 ) on Sunday July 23, 2017 @04:34PM (#54863465)
    Any manufacturer of devices with Lithium Ion batteries runs a risk of an occasional failure sparking a fire. Its not negligence, they implement all kinds of quality controls and features to prevent fires, but they are going to happen. Might be best for Apple to just pay up and not make much noise about it, as it is a rare event overall.
    • Any manufacturer of devices with Lithium Ion batteries runs a risk of an occasional failure sparking a fire. Its not negligence, they implement all kinds of quality controls and features to prevent fires, but they are going to happen. Might be best for Apple to just pay up and not make much noise about it, as it is a rare event overall.

      And set a precedent? No way.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      I actually design products that use batteries and one absolute requirement is that they fail in a safe manner. Short of ridiculous abuse like throwing the thing in a fire, if they get slammed around or dropped etc. they need to not explode or catch fire.

      We mostly use NiMH cells when we need to recharge, because it's easier to ship and safer than LiPo. We do use lithium primary (non-rechargeable) cells though, and the products are designed so that if they do start venting hydrogen or heating up they will fai

  • Obviously, (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 23, 2017 @04:41PM (#54863495)

    She was holding it wrong.

    • She should have stored it in a fireproof and explosion proof bag [amzn.to].
    • Sigh. Okay. I know you're trying to be funny. (BTW, when I say "you" I'm not talking to just you, AC. I'm talking to all of Slashdot.) But you're referencing something Steve Jobs (By the way, he's dead now. Don't know if you knew that.) said SEVEN YEARS AGO. This has got to be the lamest Apple joke in the universe and it stopped being funny about 6 1/2 years ago. How about coming up with a new joke? Please.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xqSLZ1jqhFQ [youtube.com]

      • The best rebuttal to the "holding it wrong" herp-derp crowd: http://dontholditwrong.tumblr.... [tumblr.com]

      • No. The joke has lasting power by how ludicrous it was. People still reference the Dallas dream season from the 80's. This shit will die out when we don't hold cell phones in our hands anymore and they're grafted to our ears. (Apple circa 2030. You heard it here first, folks!) No one needs to defend Steve Jobs. He was a first rate asshole.
        • by Uberbah ( 647458 )

          The joke has lasting power because Apple has far more hateboys than fanboys

          FTFY. [tumblr.com]

        • No. The joke has lasting power by how ludicrous it was.

          Yeah, The joke was ludicrous . What he said made total sense. Just look at the forced way you had to hold the phone to get a tiny drop in reception, the people all had white knuckles from the strain of holding it "just right". And the best was when various people showed other phones had similar issues, the defence from manufacturers and Apple haters was that "nobody would hold a phone that way". Which was completely different!

  • Seriously? Why would anyone still own that piece of garbage?

    Says she bought it in 2014? They were on the iPhone 6 as of Sept 2014.

    Article doesn't say where she bought it. Not saying it couldn't happen, but hmmm..

    • The lawsuit specifically states "Neither Thao nor anyone else ever changed the battery in the iPhone", which is interestingly certain given the vintage and purchase date.

      Also, the fire happened in April 2016, and the suit was filed last Thursday. The wheels of justice turn slowly... but I'll be curious to see what additional information comes out. Does the phone still exist in a form Apple can even examine?

      • by Khyber ( 864651 )

        Hubby's 4S still works and is in daily use.

        Only needs a charge once every three days. It's only used to text, browse the web (no video) and phone calls. Maybe the occasional picture or video.

      • The lawsuit specifically states "Neither Thao nor anyone else ever changed the battery in the iPhone", which is interestingly certain given the vintage and purchase date.

        According to the lawsuit the plaintiff bought the phone in 2014. But that brings up a point that the battery was at least 2 years old if it was new. If it was used, it could have been 6 years old. By then the phone was discontinued by Apple; however, it could still have been new if someone was selling out old inventory.

        Also, the fire happened in April 2016, and the suit was filed last Thursday. The wheels of justice turn slowly... but I'll be curious to see what additional information comes out. Does the phone still exist in a form Apple can even examine?

        It may have taken time to figure out the cause of the fire. Also this is a civil matter so there are different rules for how timely a suit can be brought. A delay of over a year isn't unusual

        • Neither Thao nor anyone else ever changed the battery in the iPhone", which is interestingly certain given the vintage and purchase date.

          I have an iPhone 4 that my daughters use as a camera that is still on it's original battery. It doesn't hold as much charge as it use to, but still more than enough for casual use.

    • by dgatwood ( 11270 )

      Says she bought it in 2014? They were on the iPhone 6 as of Sept 2014.

      Apple doesn't just sell one model of phone at a time. In 2014, Apple was selling the iPhone 6 / 6 Plus, the iPhone 5s, the iPhone 5c (an iPhone 5 with a cheaper, plastic back), and the iPhone 4s.

      • By Sept 2014, Apple had stop selling the 4S as new phones. It could have been purchased through other retailers and maybe refurbished but it would not have been sold new through Apple. It also matters which model and where it was purchased.
    • by murdocj ( 543661 )

      So what? If she really bought it in 2014, who cares what other phones were available? Are you really saying that it's ok for devices to self destruct in 3 years? If, somehow, the device was damaged / altered / etc, then fine, it's not Apple's fault, but if it's just 3 years old, no reason it should be catching fire.

      • No what the GP is insinuating is that it may have been purchased used and not new. It it was "new" it may not have been newly manufactured and could have been sitting in inventory for a few years. If used, then there are more questions about what may have been done to the phone before the plaintiff purchased it (like change the battery). More details will be needed.
    • by antdude ( 79039 )

      I still use it today. I got it for free from someone who didn't want it anymore. Its battery life and speed are slow, but work for basic stuff.

    • How old is your oldest computer?
  • by Cyberglich ( 525256 ) on Sunday July 23, 2017 @04:47PM (#54863527)
    If you make enough of anything with a Li-oin cell from phones to smartwatches to what ever a certain percent will go nova thats just a fact of technology . If you make them baldly (IE Note 7 ) the number that go nova will be considerable. . If state farm can prove apple did something stupid in the design/ manufacture they have case. If they don't then its a SHIT HAPPENS type event and that would insurance is for.. its like suing the architect because your house got hit by lighting unless you can prove a fault in design that makes it a lighting magnet more then any other similar size house you have no case..
  • I think Apple could make a pretty easy argument that as the non-original owner of a phone that has no verifiable record of its usage history or maintenance history, they are far from liable for any damage that could've been caused, had it even been related to the iPhone itself and not something else in the person's house.
    • We don't currently know where this woman got the phone. If it was a refurbished phone off Apple's own store, for instance, that would not be a valid argument.

      There's really too much unknown here, at this point in time, for any of us to form intelligent opinions on; but that doesn't seem to be stopping most posters.

    • Well if Apple could show that the plaintiff wasn't the original purchaser, it would strengthen their case. Also if they could show that the battery wasn't original. But we'll have to wait for more details.
  • how does state farm intend to show a preponderance of evidence that the fire was the result of a defect in design or manufacture, rather than some sort of damage occurring later. 3-6 years is a lot of time to accumulate heat, impact, moisture, and power surge damage. the lack of significant reports of that model going samsung suggest that it was not an apple QC issue,
  • I have owned an iPhone 3GS, 4, 4S, 5, 6, and 6 plus all bought by me brand new at the AT&T store or Apple store. All of them are going strong still (the 3GS and 4/4S are being used as iPods) with the exception of my 5. A few months back, I noticed that the battery in my 5 had swollen to the point that the front screen had bowed out and popped off of the bezzel in places. The phone was still on at that point. I turned it off and took it out back and put it inside my old BBQ, since it could explode or

    • I had the battery swell on my 5. It was just on two years old. Screen partially detached from the case, camera signal went funny if you applied pressure to the screen. I was travelling at the time. It lasted the week or so of my trip, and I took it straight in to an Apple store on my return home. It was close to closing time. They messed around with trying to repair it for an hour, by which point the store was supposed to have been closed for half an hour. Then they gave me a new 5, no cost.

      Pity the phone d

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      Get one of those fire-proof LiPo charging bags off eBay for a few bucks, then put on your oven mitts and carry it into the Apple store, smoking away*, with a pair of tongs. If you can borrow a hazmat suit, even better.

      When the "genius" asks what's going on, you can tell them that they told you to bring this bomb in for a battery replacement good luck it's their problem now.

      * dry ice works great for this

      • Get one of those fire-proof LiPo charging bags off eBay for a few bucks, then put on your oven mitts and carry it into the Apple store, smoking away*, with a pair of tongs. If you can borrow a hazmat suit, even better.

        A friend of mine that used to race remote control cars told me that buried in a bucket of sand is the best place to store lithium batteries. Maybe put it in a Ziploc bag first to prevent the sand from damaging any electronics.

        • Thanks, I was not familiar with this product, I will check it out (though I prefer Amazon, since the randos on Ebay would sell you a ziplock bag and call it fire retardant if they thought they could get away with it.)

    • Oh my god, these things won't explode and take your head off. Just hit it with a hammer which will make it catch fire and when it's done throw it away.

      There's thousands of Youtube videos of people doing just that. In the grand scheme of activities it's relatively safe.

      Don't inhale the smoke.
      Wear safety glasses.

      • I am aware that it is not a grenade, but as you say, I don't want to inhale the smoke, and I would prefer to be more than 16" away from it when it pops. I am not some 14 year old dumbass making a YouTube video who doesn't care if they take years off their life by inhaling diluted lithium ion battery fumes...

  • If the causeFire() method was in the iPhone 4 then Samsung are a full 3 generations behind with the Note 7!

    That is truly courageous!

  • Subrogation (Score:4, Insightful)

    by FlyHelicopters ( 1540845 ) on Sunday July 23, 2017 @10:21PM (#54864689)

    A lot of people posting here need to look up Subrogation and learn something about what State Farm is doing.

    They paid out and are now looking to recover their payment, this is something they are allowed to do and is normal under the law.

    http://www.dmv.org/insurance/s... [dmv.org]

    The policy holder is part of the suit because your insurance company requires it. If you have insurance and it pays you on a claim, you are agreeing to help sue anyone they want to go after to recover the money.

    • Exactly. The insurer can't sue directly because it doesn't have a relationship with Apple (the term of art is "privity"); the insured does have a relationship as a customer. Thus, the insured has to be a plaintiff. This is a good policy--it limits who can sue you. Similarly, subrogation moves liability to the party that created the cause of action instead of the insurer, which is a good thing because it provides incentive for parties to not do things that might cause a suit...like creating dangerous pro

  • "We can manage to settle this, but we will have to slightly restate our earnings; excuse me a moment (mumble mumble 75 *thousand*? Not *million*?) ..."

    "Sorry about this; we'll have one of our permanent food service employees pay this settlement out of the interest on their AAPL ESPP dividends this quarter. We apologize for the false alarm."

I've got all the money I'll ever need if I die by 4 o'clock. -- Henny Youngman

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