Wait a Minute, Apple Watch Wearers Say of Dismissal Bid in Design Defect Class Action

The Apple Watch purchasers claiming that a design defect that causes watch screens to shatter and injure users argued against dismissal in an opposition brief submitted Wednesday. The filing combats a number of arguments made by Apple Inc., including that the plaintiffs failed to allege that Apple knew about the defect prior to the watch’s debut.

The Oakland, Calif. lawsuit was filed last December and amended this March. The plaintiffs, nearly a dozen individuals from a smattering of states, argue that the First Generation Apple Watch, Series 1 through Series 6, and Series SE, have insufficient space for the device’s lithium cobalt oxide battery. The complaint explains that despite Apple’s knowledge that the batteries can suddenly swell, the company allocated insufficient room inside the watch for it to freely expand.

Further, the swollen battery can exert pressure on the screen which can then detach, shatter, or crack, “expos[ing] the screen’s razor-sharp edges and lead[ing] to failure of the Watch and personal injuries.” The complaint and opposition include a photograph allegedly depicting a user’s arm deeply lacerated from the defect and hazard complained of.

The watch wearers made claims under California and other state consumer protection laws, for fraud by omission, and warranty breaches. They seek to represent multiple classes of watch purchasers, whether or not those people suffered injury or experienced product failure due to the alleged defect.

In late April, Apple sought dismissal of the entire amended complaint, asserting, among other reasons, that consumer protection claims arise outside the warranty period and are barred unless the plaintiffs adequately allege an unreasonable safety hazard, which they do not.

In this week’s opposition, the plaintiffs assert otherwise. They contend that their allegations sufficiently connect the defect to the harm posed and that “the danger from detached razor-sharp glass hanging from a consumer’s wrist is obvious.”

In addition, the plaintiffs assert they adequately pleaded Apple’s presale knowledge of the defect, an element requisite to their fraud-based claims. The filing asserts that their allegations regarding Apple’s knowledge of the purported safety issue are “voluminous.” Specifically, it points to contentions that Apple knew about the defect from pre-release testing and failure analyses by “Reliability Engineers,” patent applications in 2011 and 2015 purportedly describing limitations on the ratio of device and battery size and acknowledging that battery swelling can result in damage, and the initiation of a Screen Replacement Program in August 2019.

The opposition also tackles defenses including lack of standing and failure to state a claim concerning the California and federal warranty claims. The dismissal hearing is scheduled for November 2022.

The plaintiffs are represented by Cunningham Bounds LLC, Kilborn Law LLC, and Morgan & Morgan Complex Litigation Group. Apple is represented by Morrison & Foerster LLP.