Italian consumer associations launch Apple guarantee lawsuit

Apple was already fined for promoting AppleCare warranty extensions without clarifying users' entitlement to a minimum two-year guarantee

Two Italian consumer associations are launching a class action lawsuit against Apple for failing to respect Italy's national warranty regulations, the lawyer coordinating the action confirmed Wednesday.

Rome-based Federconsumatori and the Center for the Protection of Consumers and Users (CTCU), based in the northeastern city of Bolzano, announced the action in a joint statement Tuesday.

The groups cited a ¬900,000 (US$1.16 million) fine imposed on Apple by Italy's Antitrust Authority in December and upheld on appeal by the Regional Administrative Tribunal (TAR) of Lazio in May. Their statement also referred to a letter sent recently by European Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding to justice ministers in the European Union's 27 member states urging them to keep a close watch on Apple's "unacceptable marketing practices."

"It has been reported in recent days that the Antitrust Authority has reopened the Apple case because Group companies are allegedly continuing to violate the consumer code," the statement said.

Apple fell foul of the Italian competition authority for promoting the sale of its AppleCare Protection Plan warranty extension without adequately clarifying consumers' automatic and free-of-cost entitlement to a minimum two-year guarantee under E.U. law.

The consumer groups said they were launching the legal action in view of Apple's continuing violation of consumer protections and with the intention of recovering the financial losses incurred by Apple's customers as a result of its "past and present behavior."

Massimo Cerniglia, the Rome lawyer coordinating the legal action, said the suit would be against the three Apple Group companies already sanctioned by the Antitrust Authority: Irish-registered Apple Sales International, and two Italian companies, Apple Italia and Apple Retail Italia.

The companies would be formally notified of the action within a few days and consumers who had been induced to purchase unnecessary warranty extensions would have around six months to decide whether or not to participate in the lawsuit, Cerniglia said in a telephone interview.

The two consumer groups would bear the legal costs if the action was unsuccessful, and consumers would be expected to contribute a modest 10 percent to 15 percent of their financial compensation in the event of victory, he said.

Cerniglia said he had no idea how many consumers would sign up for the lawsuit but the issue affected many thousands of Apple customers.

"We have had a lot of reports from customers saying the phenomenon of miss-selling warranty protection was continuing, even after the action of the Antitrust Authority and the TAR ruling," he said. "Apple products are excellent and I use them myself. It's just a shame the quality of the marketing is not as good as the products themselves."

A year ago a university student from the northeastern town of Vicenza won ¬5,800 in damages and costs from Apple for failing to recognize his right to a second year of warranty on his computer, as provided by Italian law. On that occasion the plaintiff, Nils Calasanzio, was backed by another consumer association, ADUSBEF (Association for the Defense of the Users of Banking and Financial Services), which provided legal assistance.

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Philip Willan

IDG News Service

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