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Apple hit with second class action complaint over iPhone 7 'Loop Disease'

Apple's audio controller chip (highlighted) in iPhone 7 is at the core of the "loop disease" issue.

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Apple on Monday was hit with a second class action complaint targeting the so-called "Loop Disease" audio chip issue, a problem known to manifest in some iPhone 7 units after prolonged use.

Filed with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, the complaint mirrors a nearly identical lawsuit lodged in Illinois last week that claims Apple attempted to conceal an iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus defect that could in some cases cause problems with device audio features.

Plaintiffs in both suits are represented by attorneys from the same three law firms, Greg Coleman Law, Tycko & Zavareei, and Barbat, Mansour & Suciu. The California case adds Joseph G. Sauder from law firm Sauder Schelkopf to the list of attorneys.

The California class action names two local plaintiffs whose iPhone 7 handsets were allegedly impacted by Loop Disease, referred to as an "Audio IC Defect" in the suit, in 2018.

Joseph Casillas purchased his iPhone in July 2017 and used the device without issue until November 2018, when he noticed audible distortion and static when listening to content through the phone's speaker. All speaker-related functions were impacted by the problem, including phone calls.

Casillas contacted Apple Support, but was told the problem could not be diagnosed. With the phone no longer covered by Apple's express warranty, and Apple not offering out-of-warranty service, Casillas would have to pay for any required repairs.

A second plaintiff, De'Jhontai Banks, bought a new iPhone 7 in January 2017. Audio issues were first encountered in August 2018, when Banks noticed that she was unable to hear callers unless phone call sound was routed through iPhone's speaker.

Banks contacted Apple Support in early 2019 and was told she would have to pay to fix the "speaker issue."

Neither plaintiff was informed that their iPhone 7 devices might be experiencing symptoms of a wider problem related to the device's audio chip. More specifically, Loop Disease, as it has become known in aftermarket repair industry circles, wreaks havoc with handset audio functions and can cause "grayed out" speaker buttons while in calls, loss of voice command capabilities for Siri, an inoperable Voice Memos app, degradation of microphone fidelity and other related issues.

Both suits claim the problem is the result of an endemic defect in iPhone 7's design. As noted in both filings, iPhone 7's aluminum chassis is made from "substandard materials," which allows the device casing to flex at a point directly over the audio controller. Continued bending of the chassis causes failures in solder connecting the audio IC chip to the logic board, resulting in an array of software and hardware troubles.

In 2018, a Motherboard report outlined Loop Disease, noting that the problem can be fixed by removing the audio chip and soldering a small length of wire between it and the logic board. This small length of wire compensates for chassis flexion by keeping the two components in constant electrical contact.

Apple has not publicly acknowledged the alleged audio chip issue, but did refer to a related problem in an internal repair document in May 2018. Further, the company at one point offered free out-of-warranty repairs on iPhone 7 devices exhibiting grayed-out audio options, though the program is no longer active.

The suit claims breach of Apple's express warranty, breach of implied warranty, violation of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, violation of the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, violation of the California Consumer Legal Remedies Act, violation of the California Unfair Competition Law, violation of the California False Advertising Law, negligent misrepresentation and unjust enrichment.

Plaintiffs seek class status, damages, attorneys' fees and injunctive relief which, as with the Illinois action, could include an order forcing Apple to repair, recall or replace impacted iPhones, extend applicable warranties or provide class members notice of the alleged defect.