Woman hits Best Buy with $54M suit for losing laptop

A woman is suing Best Buy for $54 million after the retailer lost her laptop.

A Washington, D.C., woman has filed a lawsuit seeking US$54 million in damages from Best Buy after the electronics retailer lost her laptop computer last year.

The lawsuit was filed in D.C. superior court last November but was publicized in media outlets this week. According to plaintiff Raelyn Campbell, Geek Squad technicians at Best Buy's Tenleytown, D.C., store lost the computer sometime around July 2007, then the company misled her about its whereabouts for a few weeks before finally admitting on Aug. 9 that it had been lost.

Best Buy offered Campbell $1,110 and a $500 gift card in compensation, something she calls a "lowball" offer on a blog she has devoted to the issue.

According to her, the point of the lawsuit is to publicly embarrass Best Buy into changing its privacy policy in such cases.

"To me, the big issue is not the low-balling and bullying tactics, but Best Buy's systematic disregard for its customers' personal information and potential exposure to identity theft," she wrote in her blog. "I am hoping the attention that the lawsuit and this website generate might motivate Best Buy and other consumer electronics stores entrusted with products that contain consumers' personal information to adopt thorough procedures and policies to safeguard customers' property and personal information against theft."

Best Buy can't say much about the issue because it's still before the court, but the company is working to find out what went wrong, according to company spokeswoman Nissa French.

"We're obviously embarrassed and disappointed that we were unable to resolve this customer's issue. We've tried to resolve this dispute and feel badly that it escalated to a lawsuit," she said in an e-mail.

Campbell could not be reached for comment.

On her blog, she admitted that the $54 million in damages she was seeking was an "absurd amount," but said that she chose such a large sum in order to draw attention to the problem.

Laptop thefts are frequently the source of widely publicized data breaches. On Wednesday, Lifeblood, a Memphis, Tennessee, blood collection agency, said it was notifying 320,000 blood donors after two of its laptops went missing. The computers contained personal information including Social Security numbers.

The issue of computer retailers and repair shops losing consumer laptops has not gained much attention, but Campbell believes these companies have a "legal and moral obligation" to safeguard confidential information on computers that are entrusted to them.

Although Campbell's situation is an unusual one, it makes sense for Best Buy to take extra steps to protect its customers' privacy by offering ID theft protection services, said Paul Stephens, director of policy and advocacy with Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a privacy advocacy group that tracks data breaches. "We're talking about a loss of something that's been entrusted to them," he said. "As a bare minimum, they should be doing that."

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