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Tuesday, May 05, 2009, 03:30 pm PT (06:30 pm ET)

Apple hit with class action suit over fire-prone MagSafe adapters

A new lawsuit seeking class action status has accused Apple of neglecting a flaw in the MagSafe power connector for MacBooks that might not only cause a break but could trigger sparks, forcing customers to buy replacements and even creating a potential fire hazard.

Submitted late last week to a Northern District of California court in San Jose, the joint complaint from Tim Broad, Naotaka Kitagawa and Jesse Reisman claims that the MagSafe cable used for the MacBook and MacBook Pro will inevitably fray near one of its connecting ends, contradicting Apple's claims that the adapter is "durable." The plaintiffs believe that day-to-day use, including winding the cable around the power adapter's pop-out guides, ends up destroying the cable over time — and that Apple is aware of the problem but hasn't fully addressed it with a safer design.

All three at varying points have had to buy replacement MagSafe adapters for their systems that, in two cases, have already either needed a replacement or are showing signs of needing one. The plastic sheath on the cable in each circumstance was often melted away and exposed the bare wiring; Broad noted the heat was enough that it might have caused fire damage to his home if he hadn't been present to watch for the danger signs.

"It almost burned my hand when I brushed it accidentally," he says in the 27-page filing.

The trio also points to numerous examples of similar patterns online, including Apple's own online store, where the cables had frayed, melted or sparked and forced customers to get one or more replacements. Apple, meanwhile, only asks customers to visit a certified Apple service location if sparks occur anywhere other than at the power plug's metal prongs; many of these visits, however, only result in the customers buying another $80 adapter rather than receiving a free replacement.

As the problem is already known to affect "at least thousands" of users and may well include hundreds of thousands with the exact same issue, the plaintiffs want class action status to represent anyone who may have bought an affected MacBook and have charged Apple with violating California's business codes as well as breaching the implied and explicit warranties attached to the computers.

Frayed MagSafe adapter

A MagSafe adapter cable whose sheath has melted, exposing the wire. | Image credits: Flickr user AriXr.


Broad, Kitagawa and Reisman want Apple to not only refund any of the associated costs with the known defective products but to warn the public and, if successful, pay punitive damages alongside the expected compensation.

As always, Apple hasn't commented on the lawsuit, but faces a large hurdle given the collective evidence. AppleInsider has also heard of Apple redesigning its adapters as early as October 2007 to try and resolve its cable issues, but many of the incidents reported in the new lawsuit have occurred well after the fix was supposed to have taken effect that year, surfacing as recently as March 2009.