Apple sued over iPhone moisture sensors (Updated)

Apple has been sued by a California woman over what she claims are false-positive readings on the iPhone’s moisture sensors. InformationWeek reports that Charlene Gallion of San Francisco claims to have had two separate iPhone units fail within six months of each other, and was denied warranty coverage due to triggered sensors. Gallion claims that neither of the units was ever subjected to water damage. The suit itself states, “As a result of Apple’s improper application of the Liquid-Damage Exclusion, Apple sells [devices] with the intent to exclude them from the warranty coverage Apple promises consumers it will provide—even when consumers pay extra for Extended Warranty coverage—simply because their Liquid Submersion Indicator has been triggered, without any attempt by Apple to verify whether the Class Devices actually have been damaged as a result of submersion or immersion in liquid.” Overly-sensitive moisture sensors have been a problem for some iPhone customers in the past; a report from September 2009 claimed that Apple’s company protocol when responding to a customer with a unit that has had its external sensors triggered is to say the warranty is now void and turn the customer away.

Update: Upon obtaining a copy the actual filing, iLounge has learned that Gallion has filed a class action suit, and is seeking both actual and punitive damages.

  1. My 3GS looks like the sensor in the dock has triggered. The headphone sensor looks normal. It has never been exposed to water.

    However I have indeed had it on the bathroom counter top while taking a shower whilke waiting for a call.

    I guess if I but the new phone I will need to put it in a baggie. 🙂

  2. @1: Unless there is deception on the part of the plaintiff, it doesn’t matter how they were triggered. The issue is Apple’s policy that cannot be interpreted any way other than to knowingly turn down some number of blameless consumers for the improper triggering of the moisture sensors to save money at consumer expense. Unless Apple can prove, in spite of plenty of evidence to the contrary, their moisture sensors are 100% accurate, they are going to come out on the wrong side of this as they are failing to honor their stated warrant under an unjustified policy.

    The fact that a bit of filter paper with some moisture sensitive dye has changed color is not enough to prove immersion, it’s enough to prove there *might* have been immersion, full stop. Their policy should be to do a disassembly of the device and actually show immersion, then approve/disapprove warranty service. Would that cost them more? Absolutely, but that’s also the cost of being number one, you can’t just find back end ways to increase your profits. Either don’t offer the warranty, and suffer consumer backlash on that and lose money, or keep the warranty and lose some money short term but gain better consumer loyalty*.

    *Me, I’ve been lucky (or unlucky on how you want to view it) with two iPod devices of the seven we’ve had in this household fail under warranty and both were swapped without issue. This, in spite of my critical nature, gives me a more positive slant toward Apple. Now, had my first encounter with Apple warranty service back in 2005 been not a less than 48 hours from failure to replacement swap, but, rather, an erroneous denial of coverage due to user abuse, would I even be here commenting?

  3. I was in the Apple store getting my 2nd iPhone replaced at the Genius Bar when several others were having their iPod touches and iPhones looked at. I notice the person behind the counter, after listening to their complaints, took out this device (the same one that doctors use to look in your ear) and looked in the headphone port and connection port at the bottom then told them that the moisture sensors had been activated, so they were refused warranty repair or replacements.

    I thought to myself “those are odd places to put moisture sensors!” Arent these things usually placed INSIDE the device?

  4. ahmemon…there are sensors inside the device as well. 2 more, i believe, but you’re right–they only look in the headphone port.

  5. I have heard reports that having the iPhone in the bathroom while you shower can create enough humidity to trigger the sensor.

    Perhaps the plaintiff in this lawsuit was doing just that, not realizing that it could trigger the immersion sensors.

  6. +1 on the complaint. Brand new iPod Nano, flaky out of the box, took it to the Apple Store, they claimed the moisture sensor was tripped, and I was out of luck. It is a stupid policy. I would normally stop giving someone business after this sort of thing, but I ain’t giving up my Mac and iPhone. I think they know they can get away with it. More power to the class action folks on this–I wish them luck.

  7. This needs to be a class action lawsuit. Period.

    I was given the same runaround with an iPhone 3G last year. I even had the guy at the genius bar take the phone apart so we could visually verify that the two internal sensors weren’t tripped. Even the manager wouldn’t replace the phone; they were standing by their crazy rule. No other manufacturer that I know of puts so many sensors on/in their devices – and I don’t know of ANY that put them in such close proximity to the outside of the device.

    Eventually, I called the PR number and was eventually transferred to a resolution department that overnighted me a new phone. I don’t think a fraction of people who have this issue and legitimately aren’t to blame actually get their problem solved.

  8. I used to work as a genius at an apple store and they recently changed the policy regarding liquid damaged phones.

    If one sensor is tripped, and the other is not, the genius is allowed to take apart the iphone to check the internal LCI’s (Liquid contact indicator). If the internal LCI’s are not tripped the Genius can replace it within warranty or provide a repair. If they are triggered however the iphones warranty is void. This helped rule out things like moisture from humidity, and even spit or sweat damage.

    You know that cute flute app that you can blow into the microphone to play the digital flute? I have a feeling there are a lot of spit damaged phones out there.

  9. @8/tom: While an improvement, I don’t see how that actually changes anything. The phone should be disassembled whether one or both of the externally visible indicators are triggered, period. Externally visible indicators are placed in devices like this to indicate when someone should go to the time and trouble of disassembling the device to check the internal indicators before accepting the device for warranty replacement. Trip one, trip two, trip a billion external indicators and all you’ve proven is that some microliter measurable volume of water was absorbed by an [b]exposed[/b] piece of filter paper. At no point does that come close to proving immersion or damage by liquid.

    All the change you describe shows is that Apple saw the indicators that a lawsuit like this one was coming but still couldn’t bring themselves to abandon their cost saving strategy completely. I’m sure the percentage of genuine immersions versus false triggers is significantly higher when you require both externally visible LCIs to be triggered before automatically turning the person away, but there’s still a gazillion ways to trigger them without ever getting liquid to the internals of the device, and that, to me, is the crux. Apple is counting on their “good faith” policy change to save them and I, at least, hope it won’t – the policy still turns away a measurable percentage of users who should receive warranty service under the law.

    For example: Apple sells around 50 million iPhones a year. Let’s say 1% of them fail during their warranty (probably a much lower number than the actual failure rate, but let’s be generous to Apple’s QC department). Now, let’s assume that only 1% of those failures are dismissed incorrectly due to externally triggered moisture indicators (based on anecdotal reports, that’s also probably a low figure, but again, let’s be generous). That would still amount to a cost of over $3,000,000 passed onto the consumers annually that Apple, under the law, should be covering. That’s wrong, full stop.

  10. i have an ipod touch , the main button ceased to work , took it to genius and got its been exposed to moisture so bye !! its never left the dock in the lounge since i bought it . luckily my tecnophobe friend went online and bought some bits and fixed it for £30 !! the button was faulty nothing to do with water at all .i now own an iphone 3gs , 2 months old and has just stopped working , dead as a dodo , and guess what ? moisture exposure …… its becoming far to obvious that external sensors are basically a kop out to save cost. apple stores should have staff in the front windows perminently waving goodbye to unhappy customers because there are loads !!!

  11. I had this very problem with my first 3G iPhone. I did not even have my phone for three months.
    The ATT salesperson recomended a case for my new phone that totally encapsulated the phone. The problem was that it also trapped moisture. I work construction and kept my phone in my front pocket. When I took my phone in to the Apple store for stress cracks
    the apple guy said the warranty was void due to water damage. I ask him if sweat from keeping it in my pocket would set off the indicator and he said no way. Only one of the indicators turned pink.

  12. Just replaced my third iPod 4G Nano due to “moisture”. The thing is billed as being good for use during exercise, hence its teeny weeny microscopic size, teeny weeny buttons, and cute touch screen, all of which are worthless when running, cycling, etc. Any way, “moisture” are you kidding me [insert stronger language]. Exercise=sweat, aka “moisture”. What a lemon and what a deceptive and unethical sales pitch. Where do I sign up?

  13. I’m torn on this issue. I’ve seen people screw companies with bogus returns – we all know this happens a lot.
    I’m shocked at how many people will lie/cheat to ripoff the “rich, evil corporations” that “won’t notice my little faux pas”
    OTOH, Apple can’t over-compensate for this activity by hosing legitimate returns for failures.
    I’ve had to battle once or twice with Apple, but OTOH, I’ve had numerous insanely great experiences with them replacing things I never expected, and things out of warranty.
    I think overall, Apple do better than most, and for me, in 25+ years, I am extremely happy.
    But let’s place some of this blame on the people that in turn try to rip Apple off by trying to warranty replace abused items.

  14. @kw Just replaced my third iPod 4G Nano due to “moisture”.

    Maybe you should change your case or iPod carry location?

  15. I upgraded to the iPhone 4S around 9-10 months ago. Around a week ago, it gave me quite a problem. It ceased to function on WiFi. This is a problem a lot of people have had on the 4S but it didn’t seem to be an issue as the phone was under warranty. Unfortunately, that’s where the real problem began. I was shocked to be told that the moisture sensor inside the headphone port had changed colour. So it won’t be repaired and I have to buy a new one. But that phone was never next or near moisture (other than that occurring naturally in the atmosphere). In fact, I had a cover on it the whole time.

    I wish the lady taking the case good luck. I hope she does well.

  16. While sitting watching tv iphone wouldn’t work right. Took it to verizon store and was told by salesperson that it had water damage. Phone never had water damage. Scam salesperson put that instrument in the bottom and the top. Notice I said salesperson not technician.This store used to have a room full of technicians now they are all gone. My daughter had a cracked screen a month ago. I got the same answer from salesperson. It can’t be fixed you have insurance you can buy new phone.Already had screen put on daughters phone for 80dollars once before. But verizon’s answer to everything is can’t be fixed!!!

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