Lenovo Group has opted to settle a year-old US class-action lawsuit over connectivity problems with its IdeaPad U-Series ultrabooks, forking over $70m (£42m), some of which may find its way into the pockets of the vendor's authorised repair partners in that country.
The suit filed in February 2013 in a Federal court in California alleged that the U-Series ultrabooks - specifically the IdeaPad models U310 and U410 - included an inherent design flaw that made it nearly impossible to remain connected to a WiFi network, a significant shortcoming in a laptop billed as a mobile-computing device.
The flaw affected some 83,000 Lenovo IdeaPad devices, according to the court documents.
Orange County, California, resident Garrett Kacsuta initially filed the claim after attempts to have the problem fixed by Lenovo failed.
In a curious bit of legal manoeuvering, Lenovo attempted to defend itself against Kacsuta's suit by claiming the plethora of negative reviews for the U-Series posted on Facebook, Amazon.com and elsewhere served as a form of public "disclosure" that would have exempted the manufacturer from liability.
A judge rejected that defence effort in July 2013.
"The fact that information about consumer complaints may have been available on the internet does not negate a claim for fraudulent omission," US District Court Judge Cormac Carney wrote.
One of those negative reviews came from Washington DC resident Michael Wheeler, who filed his own suit against Lenovo in Washington last October. That case had been set for arbitration, but will now be included in the California ruling with Wheeler being added as a named defendant in the Kacsuta case, according to court records.
"DO NOT BUY THIS LAPTOP!" Wheeler wrote in a March 2013 review of the Lenovo IdeaPad U410 14-Inch Ultrabook on Amazon.com.
"This is my first Amazon review and I was motivated to write it because of the totally unusable experience I've had with it. The wireless is unusable. I'm a pretty sophisticated computer user and we have multiple devices operating on our Wi-Fi network but this computer without question has repeated Wi-Fi connection problems. In addition, the trackpad driver software crashes constantly when Microsoft Office is opened.
"I'd recommend cruising the Lenovo forums for feedback on these issues from other unfortunate Lenovo buyers."
Like Kacsuta, Wheeler also attempted to have the laptop fixed by Lenovo to no avail.
As part of the $70m settlement, Lenovo has agreed to give anyone in the US who bought a U310 or U410 IdeaPad ultrabook a choice of having the unit repaired at an authorised service centre at no charge; a cash refund of $100; or a $250 credit certificate good towards any purchase on the Lenovo website.
In addition, all affected purchasers can file for 100-per cent reimbursement for any out-of-pocket expenses incurred trying to get the faulty laptops fixed.
According to the lawyers for representing the plaintiffs in the Kacsuta class-action suit, "the settlement provides substantial benefits to the settlement class and is fair, reasonable, adequate and in the best interests of plaintiffs".
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