Apple Faces Class Action Lawsuit Over Allegedly Defective MacBook Keyboards

Dani Alexis Ryskamp, J.D.

Written by
— Updated on June 23, 2020

Apple Faces Class Action Lawsuit Over Allegedly Defective MacBook Keyboards

Apple Faces Class Action Lawsuit Defective MacBook Keyboards

A recent lawsuit filed in the Northern District of California claims that thousands of MacBook owners are struggling with an alleged defect in certain Apple laptops that has reportedly caused numerous keyboard malfunctions.

According to the lawsuit, users started experiencing problems with the “butterfly” style keyboards in MacBook and MacBook Pro laptops not long after the 2015 models were introduced. Nonetheless, the lawsuit claims, Apple kept not only selling the laptops with the same keyboards, but charged a premium price for them.

“The MacBook suffers from a latent defect,” the plaintiffs stated in their complaint. “As numerous online complaints describe, not long after consumers purchase the MacBook, their keyboard begins to suffer from a host of problems including keys sticking, keystrokes failing to register, keys typing a letter or command multiple times even though [the key] was struck only once, and keys simply not working at all.”

Apple offers a one-year warranty on the MacBook and MacBook Pro laptops. The company also has an online support page that offers cleaning instructions for the keyboard.

The lawsuit, however, claims that these measures are insufficient to prevent or fix the problem. Rather, the lawsuit alleges that Apple “routinely refuses to honor its warranty obligations,” instead telling MacBook owners “to try self-help remedies that it knows will not result in a permanent repair.”

The complaint seeks $5 million in damages under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act. It also seeks certification of a class of MacBook and MacBook Pro purchasers with affected devices.

What’s Wrong With the MacBook Keyboard?

Most laptop keyboards use a “scissor” mechanism to allow the keys to function properly, without sticking or failing to register keystrokes. This mechanism is designed to account for the fact that, over time, laptop keyboards accumulate dust and dirt beneath the keys, and to allow the keys to keep working even as dust builds up.

The keys on the MacBooks involved in the lawsuit, however, use a “butterfly” mechanism. This mechanism allowed Apple to make a keyboard that was 40 percent thinner than “scissor” type keyboards – but that also appears to have caused serious problems for users.

An AppleInsider study found that “the 2016 MacBook Pro keyboard is failing twice as often in the first year of use as the 2014 or 2015 MacBook Pro models.” While the 2017 model appears to be failing less often than the 2016, AppleInsider noted, “but not by a lot.”

Both plaintiffs in the lawsuit sought to have their MacBooks repaired at Apple stores in their respective cities, only to face frustrations. One was told the repair would take over a week and was offered the opportunity to purchase an additional external keyboard for $139 instead. The other brought his laptop to Apple for repairs, only to be told that since the warranty had expired, the plaintiff would be responsible for the full cost of the repair – which was quoted at “over $700,” according to the complaint.

Frustrations over the failing MacBook keyboards led over 23,000 people to sign a Change.org petition asking Apple to “recall every MacBook Pro released since late 2016, and replace the keyboards on all of them with new, redesigned keyboards that just work.”

Product Liability Lawsuits in an Internet Era: Evidence and Questions

While the Apple lawsuit isn’t the first to find its complaints echoed in online forums, the initial filing is one of only a few to date that makes heavy reference to these online complaints as it builds its case.

For instance, the complaint specifically references Apple’s advertising, which appeared both on- and offline, claiming that the MacBooks involved in the lawsuit featured a “more responsive keyboard.” The complaint also cites the Change.org petition, noting that the petition had gained over 17,000 signatures in its first week online.

The complaint also examines Apple’s online purchasing options, noting that “the online purchase portal does not – and never did – disclose that the MacBook is prone to keyboard failure.” Neither does the MacBook’s packaging, according to the complaint.

The complaint even digs into comments made in online MacBook user forums, including the forum run at discussions.apple.com, Apple’s official website. “Consumers described MacBook keyboard failures in public forums immediately after the MacBook was released and immediately after the MacBook Pro was released,” the complaint notes, offering several examples from the weeks immediately following the MacBook’s April 2015 release and the MacBook Pro’s October 2016 release.

The Internet has changed communication in profound ways – including how we communicate frustrations and complaints about consumer products. While the questions raised by the Apple complaint have yet to be addressed in court, the ways in which the complaint uses the MacBook user community as a resource to demonstrate the foundation of a widespread functionality problem with the “butterfly” keyboards raises broader questions for the organization of similar product defect lawsuits in the future.

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