Can I Sue Technology Retailers?
Yes, you may sometimes sue tech retailers and service providers—but not always. It depends greatly on the company and what kind of consumer claim you have. Many cases never see a courtroom.
When you shop at tech stores like Best Buy, Amazon, Apple, or Microsoft, you expect the products you buy will work. You also expect the company to keep its promises and deliver reasonable customer service. But that's not always what happens.
In cases beyond simple dissatisfaction, you may want to explore your options. A company's failure may give you a reason to sue. But the legal factors could be as complex as the technology you bought.
Common Customer Disputes With Tech Retailers
Virtually everyone has a horror story about a tech purchase, whether a digital or physical product. Your new game console didn't start up. Or a TV delivery drop-off never arrived. Perhaps your smart refrigerator broke after only two weeks.
Many consumer complaints against tech retailers and manufacturers include:
- Poor customer service
- Defective merchandise
- Product delivery problems, such as lost packages or delays
- Functionality or prices that don't match what the company advertised
- Unreasonably short return policies
- Delayed or canceled pre-orders
- Products damaged during repair
- Unauthorized credit card charges, particularly for subscription and service fees
Many of these shopping issues can happen with any retailer, but technology can complicate the situation. The technical components of hardware and software are often delicate, and customers may be unfamiliar with how these products work exactly. It might be hard to diagnose why (and who is at fault) when something goes wrong.
Consumer Complaints Against IT Service Providers
Unfortunately, many people have had problems with IT repair services. Sometimes, these services are associated with tech retailers, such as Apple Repair and Best Buy's Geek Squad. Problems may arise when you trust the service with highly personal items like your cell phone or laptop.
Some common IT complaints include:
- Lost, stolen, misused, or destroyed data
- Missing devices
- Compromised personal information or identity theft
- Unqualified service people
- Failure to fix the problem
An issue with the repair process might convince you to buy a new device. You might try—perhaps even pay for—several rounds of unhelpful repair sessions. Or worse, someone might exploit your data to steal from you.
Not all devices are fixable. But a company that offers repairs or refurbishment should fulfill the service it advertises adequately. They must also obey privacy laws that protect Americans' data.
Can a Tech Company Stop Me From Going to Court?
Yes, many tech retailers require you to give up your right to go to court. A judge's ruling might seem like the only fair way to make amends with a powerful tech giant. But tech contracts usually limit you to a process called arbitration. Not all contracts have a mandatory arbitration clause, but many do.
Some believe that arbitration is faster and cheaper than court. But the cost of arbitration still might not be worthwhile. Most tech store policies or contracts limit the amount of money you can recover. The best approach for you might be something else.
Other Dispute Resolution Requirements
Some tech companies don't force you into arbitrating your claim, but they might still set up guard rails. For example, they could restrict you to seeking relief through a court in a particular state. Or you might have a narrow window to file a claim before you lose your chance.
Amazon, for example, has required customers to file lawsuits in a court in King County, Washington. Apple has required customers to consent to suing in Santa Clara County, California. Staples has required filing in Massachusetts within one year.
Filing a lawsuit in a faraway state is inconvenient. So, find a consumer protection lawyer there to discuss the legal issues involved in your situation. If necessary, they may also handle any court matters for you.
There Are Exceptions To Forced Arbitration
For some claims, the law allows you to go to court regardless of an arbitration clause. For example, federal law prohibits forced arbitration if you have a claim related to sexual assault.
If you experienced a significant loss, consider consulting with a consumer protection lawyer in your state. They can check whether the tech retailer's contract applies to your situation.
Disclaimer of Warranties
In addition to arbitration, there is the issue of warranties. Generally, a warranty is a promise that the product is what it is supposed to be and will work the way it's intended to.
These contract terms make it hard for a consumer to win an arbitration or a court case. Yet, winning is still possible for some claims.
Try an Informal Solution First
You could resolve your dispute through informal procedures the retailer has in place by:
- Checking the store policy or online agreement for the dispute resolution process
- Writing an email or sending a letter to describe your claim
- Providing any additional information or broken technical parts if the company asks
When the company finishes its internal investigation, it will generally notify you of the outcome. It might offer a refund or exchange for a similar product.
This process can help you save money by avoiding court costs. You might also reach a solution in a matter of days rather than months. But if you believe the company didn't reach a fair decision, you could try arbitration, small claims court, or litigation next.
How Much Is My Tech Claim Worth?
Your recovery is usually worth what you paid for the product. For a subscription-based product, such as a streaming service, your claim might be the amount you paid in a given time (typically one year).
Most online tech retailers also require you to agree, as a condition of using the website, that any recovery you might get (your damages) is limited. For some retailers, the recovery is minimal.
What To Expect in Arbitration With a Tech Retailer
You won't have a judge or a jury hear your claim. Instead, you and the retailer hire an arbitrator to decide your dispute. The arbitrator is usually a lawyer and often a former judge. The arbitrator does not represent the retailer's interests. Their role is to be a neutral third party.
The process involves streamlined steps:
- You have a hearing in front of the arbitrator, which may be in person or online with a video conference program like Zoom.
- You can call witnesses and submit documents, and the other side can do same.
- The arbitrator considers the materials submitted, then decides.
- You and the retailer are bound to the arbitrator's decision.
You do not have a jury trial. You give up your right to appeal. You also give up any right to bring an action with a group of other customers with similar claims (a class action lawsuit). Yet, you may resolve the dispute more quickly than in court.
Taking a Tech Retailer to Small-Claims Court
Most retailers that require arbitration make an exception for small claims court.
States place limits on the amount you can recover in small claims court. In Rhode Island and Kentucky, it's as low as $2,500. In Delaware and Tennessee, it's as much as $25,000. The maximum depends on where you are.
Check your local court's website to see if your case falls within your state's small claims limit. If so, this option may be an inexpensive, effective way to resolve your dispute with a tech retailer. In most cases, you won't need a lawyer.
Litigating Your Claim in Court
Companies can't force arbitration for substantial consumer claims. Particularly bad conduct can justify bringing your lawsuit to a public courtroom.
For example, say you want help installing a new antivirus software on your computer. You bring it into Best Buy so Geek Squad employees will install it. The salesperson never asks you to sign paperwork. When you get your device back, all your data is missing.
Thankfully, you have a backup. You don't trust the same store to handle your data again, so you turn to Geek Squad's remote online service. They begin restoring the data to your computer—only to destroy your backup, too.
In a situation like this, you may have enough cause to sue the tech retailer or service provider. A lawyer can help you better understand your legal rights and the litigation process.
Consider Legal Advice for Your Claim
The terms of tech retail contracts often surprise customers. Many don't realize they have signed away legal rights. Discouraged customers might assume that means they have no path to recovery.
Consumer protection laws can help you decide what to do about a problem with your new technology or recent service. You could consult with a consumer protection or contract lawyer to consider your options.
Act quickly. Many terms of service limit how long you have to sue. States also have statutes of limitations, which will prohibit your claim once enough time passes.