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Plaintiff Must Allege Unreasonable Safety Hazard in CLRA Claim

By Robyn Hagan Cain on February 16, 2012 3:30 PM

On Thursday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a district court decision to dismiss a case against Hewlett-Packard, finding that the district court did not err in requiring Plaintiffs to allege the existence of an unreasonable safety defect.

Cass Wilson sued Hewlett-Packard (HP) alleging that the computer giant concealed a design defect in its Pavilion Notebook computers that manifested after the expiration of the warranty in violation of California’s Consumers Legal Remedies Act (CLRA) and Unfair Competition Law (UCL).

Over two years after Wilson purchased his HP Pavillion laptop, and shortly after the limited warranty expired, Wilson's laptop began to display "low power" warnings, and would run on battery power even when plugged into an a/c adapter. Wilson claimed that the problem became worse until he was unable to use the computer. When he contacted HP in late 2006 about the problem, HP told him that his warranty had expired, and that he could return the computer to HP to have his motherboard replaced for over $400.

Wilson contacted a number of local repair facilities, which informed him that "there was a known problem with the power jack and the port for the power jack on a number of HP's computers." Instead of returning the laptop to HP, Wilson had the power jack repaired at a local repair facility for $150. The laptop and its battery, however, were still unable to receive power.

(Sidebar: We had the same problem with our HP laptop in 2005.)

Wilson sued HP under the UCL and CLRA, claiming that HP was aware, prior to the marketing and selling of six models of its laptops, that the laptops were inherently defective and "substantially likely to cease working and require expensive repair during their useful life with normal use and after the expiration of the warranty accompanying the laptops." The District Court dismissed the lawsuit, noting that, while the UCL and CLRA claims involve fraudulent intent, the complaint contained "few if any facts ... from which an inference of knowledge of the allegedly hazardous defect could be drawn."

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal. Because the plaintiffs alleged under the CLRA that HP concealed the design defect in the laptops, the plaintiffs were required to allege that the design defect caused an unreasonable safety hazard.

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