Best of ECT News


The Lost Laptop and the $54 Million Lawsuit

A frustrated Best Buy customer has filed a US$54 million lawsuit against the electronics retailer in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. Her complaint? Best Buy lost the laptop she had brought in for repair; the tech staff was evasive about its whereabouts; and the store refused to compensate her fully for her loss.

The last straw for D.C. resident Raelyn Campbell was the realization that the incident had exposed her personal data, and she was at risk of identity theft.

Campbell doesn’t expect to be awarded the huge sum she’s suing for. Rather, asshe writes in her blog, she wants to draw attention to Best Buy’s policies and poor treatment of its customers, and to pressure the retailer to implement better employee training programs.

Shades of Pants Suit

Coincidentally, this suit is playing out in the same jurisdiction where Roy Pearson Jr. unsuccessfully sued a local business, Custom Cleaners, for losing a pair of pants. The case quickly gained notoriety since Pearson was a judge, and he was suing the establishment for $65 million on grounds that it hadn’t lived up to the promise implied in the “Satisfaction Guaranteed” placard displayed on its wall.

Not surprisingly, comparisons are being drawn. “At some point every one of these claims is either an effort for publicity or an effort at extortion,” said Philip K. Howard, an attorney at Covington & Burling and the founder and chair of Common Good, a nonprofit devoted to fighting frivolous lawsuits.

The case should be dismissed without prejudice to be refiled in small claims court, he told CRM Buyer.

There was scant sympathy for Pearson, whose target was a mom-and-pop shop.

Feedback Galore

Although Campbell has her share of detractors, she also has a sizable number of fans urging her on. Following is a sampling of the comments (116 and counting) on her blog:

From blackbobcreative:

“Way to make a mockery out of the legal system with an excessive suit. Lawsuits shouldn’t be used to make personal statements or grab media attention. Your suit is worth $20,000, at the very most.”

From sarah:

“Good for you! I have a story that is remarkably similar to yours (bought laptop from BB, gave to them for repairs, never to be seen again — reportedly stolen from their offsite repair shop)… after years of trying to get Best Buy to own up to its mistake — Or even offer me compensation — I gave up. I admire the effort you are putting forth here. It’s obviously not about the money as much as making a point.

From craig & cindy:

“Just to let you know, I had an incredibly difficult time getting Best Buy to honor its warranty on my Ipod. I have now boycott them. While my incident was not as egregious an incident as yours. I, too, believe Best Buy really sucks.”

From dave Johnson:

“You signed a waiver stating that if all your data was lost, it wasn’t Best Buy’s fault. You have no case as far as your data that you did not back up and your software which you must have lost. They offered to replace your laptop with a NEW laptop. Keep getting mad at your dumb mistakes. My question is this: was it fixed in the store or was it sent out. If sent out, to where? Good chance it wasn’t that store’s fault.”

The case may well be thrown out of court. Most consumer transactions such as repairs are predicated on a waiver of liability, Peter Vogel, an attorney with Gardere Wynne Sewell, told CRM Buyer.

“I can’t say for certain, but I would bet money that her receipt from Best Buy includes small print stating the store is not responsible for damages,” he said.

Granted, the case may be thrown out or sent to small claims court, but buzz around it is starting to build, blackening Best Buy’s eyes in the minds of many consumers.

From kevin:

“I have never been more frustrated in my life than when I was trying to get my laptop serviced by the Geek Squad at Best Buy in Apple Valley, Mn. As with you, I was repeatedly lied to about the status of my laptop and the extent to what repairs were done. Lie after lie after lie. I couldn’t for the life of me undertand how that sort of culture is allowed to thrive. Here’s alink to my blog and my frustrations associated with that experience.”

Widespread Effects

It could still be a very expensive suit for Best Buy, even if the case never makes it beyond the embryonic stages, Mary Mack, technology counsel forFios, told CRM Buyer.

“Even though it is just one person suing a big company, it will have to put a legal hold on the documents related to training and related to how they handle lost laptops,” she said.

If nothing else, the sequence of events leading to this state of affairs provides an object lesson to companies on how not to treat a customer.

Campbell bought her laptop at Best Buy in 2006, paying an extra $300 for an extended warranty. A year later, a part on the computer broke. It was covered by the warranty, so she took her computer back to the store and was informed the repair would take two to six weeks.

Four months later, Campbell’s computer still hadn’t been returned. After receiving a number of excuses for the delay, she finally got an admission that the computer was missing, she recounts on her blog. She was offered a $900 Best Buy gift card as compensation, which was less than what she originally had paid for the computer and warranty.

Another Satisfied Customer

By this point, relations between Campbell and the customer service manager handling her complaints had become strained. She had solicited friends and family to complain to the store on her behalf; on her site is a copy of a response sent by Robert Delissio, general manager of the store, to a friend who had complained on her behalf.

“Although I can not discuss the situation with other customers I will say that any customer that has had an unsatisfactory experience in my store I have done what I could within reason to rectify,” he wrote.

“Customers have, on occasion demanded unrealistic compensation. For one customer who may have an unpleasant experience I can give you hundreds who love the service and experience we provide. I understand the importance of customer service and have brought that point of view to the store. Does the store have opportunities? Absolutely! But I will address each situation and give it the attention it requires.

“Some customers I have found can not be satisfied. I do hope that you will allow the Tenley Town store the opportunity to continue to provide you with the service you should expect from any retailer. If by chance you come to the store and do not receive this service I would hope you would seek me out and bring that to my attention. I want to thank you for your time.”

Protecting Privacy

A consultation with an attorney added a new sense of urgency to the matter for Campbell. She realized that her identity was at risk because of the loss.

She enrolled in an identity theft monitoring service and then filed suit on November 16, “seeking both fair compensation for replacement of the computer, all of its content, and expenses related to identity theft protection and the lawsuit, and the adoption of adequate measures to ensure customer privacy protection is given the priority it deserves in the future,” she wrote in her blog.

This story was originally published on Feb. 14, 2008, and is brought to you today as part of our Best of ECT News series.

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