Apple Sued for iPhone Water Resistance Claims

On Saturday, a consumer filed a class-action complaint in the Southern District of New York against Apple Inc., alleging that Apple made misrepresentations about the water resistance of various iPhones.

According to the complaint, Apple “manufactures, markets and sells smartphones under the iPhone brand, purporting to be capable of sustaining limited contact and/or immersion in water for finite period of time (‘Products’).” The plaintiff asserted that this water resistance feature is important because various reports have shown that “(a)pproximately 100,000 smartphones are damaged by water or other liquids every day in the United States” and “35% of all smartphone failures are due to liquid damage.” The plaintiff noted that the costs to repair or replace these devices are expensive for consumers. Reportedly, the “ ‘hidden tax’ due to the inability to withstand even minimal contact and immersion in water costs American consumers over $10 billion each year.”

The complaint stated that in recognition of the importance of water-resistant or protective features, the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) developed ingress protection (IP) standards, which allow electronics manufacturers “to certify to purchasers that their devices are capable of varying levels of resistance to dust and water.” According to the plaintiff, since the iPhone 7 was introduced in 2016, Apple “has marketed its devices as offering no less than ‘IP67’ protection.” For example, the plaintiff claimed that the iPhone 8 has an IP67 protection, “promising water resistance to a depth of 1 meter for up to 30 minutes,” meanwhile the iPhone 11 and 11 Pro Max are rated IP68, “promising water resistance to a depth of 4 meters for up to 30 minutes.” The plaintiff alleged that Apple markets and advertises these iPhones as water resistant and impermeable “by showing them being splashed, immersed in water and/or hit with powerful jets of water.”

However, according to the complaint, this marketing “is insufficiently qualified by fine print disclaimers.” In particular, the plaintiff contended that “IP certification levels are based on highly controlled laboratory conditions, with static and pure water” while, “(i)n everyday usage, the water (that) devices encounter is not static and purified, but contains various minerals, chemicals and other elements.” Consequently, the plaintiff argued that “consumers who stand at the edge of a pool or ocean and whose devices are splashed or temporarily immerse, will be denied coverage, because the water contained chlorine or salt.” Additionally, the plaintiff asserted that Apple’s disclaimers allegedly limit the devices’ one-year warranty to not include liquid damage.

The plaintiff alleged that when a consumer tries to obtain warranty coverage based on the water-resistance claims, “the first step will verify if the liquid contact indicator (‘LCI’) has turned red, a sign that liquid has entered the device.” The plaintiff proffered that Apple’s “water-resistant representation include(s) resistance to accidental spills from common liquids, such as soda, beer, coffee, tea and fruit juices. In the event of such a spill, defendant instructs users to rinse the affected area of their device. However, defendant will often use the rinsing of the device as a pretext to deny coverage, even though it explicitly instructs users to take this step.” The plaintiff averred that Apple’s attempts to deny coverage via the fine print of its terms and conditions, which does not cover water or liquid damage, is “unconscionable and deceptive, considering its marketing of the devices as ‘water-resistant’” as it leaves consumers to cover these costs. As a result of Apple’s purportedly false and misleading representations in its water resistance advertising, consumers are allegedly likely to believe that their iPhones “can sustain contact with water through splashes and/or immersions, in accordance with the IP certification level of their device.” However, Apple has failed to clarify the difference between waterproof and water resistant, according to the plaintiff.

The causes of action are violations of the New York General Business Law; breach of express warranty, implied warranty of merchantability and Magnuson Moss Warranty Act; negligent misrepresentation; fraud; and unjust enrichment.

The plaintiff seeks class certification and for the plaintiff and her counsel to represent the class; preliminary and permanent injunctive relief; an award for damages, costs, and fees; and other relief.

The plaintiff is represented by Sheehan & Associates P.C.