BONN A 14-year-old student from Bonn suffers burns when his iPhone 6 suddenly catches fire in class. The family now fights with the billion-dollar Apple corporation over compensation for pain and suffering.
There's a hole in the sweatpants, the heat has melted the polyester fabric. On the right thigh of the 14-year-old student from Bonn, many small black dots are burned in. The skin blisters where the trouser pocket usually sits. "In the meantime it has healed, but the scars will remain," says the boy's mother, who is a doctor. It's been five months since an iPhone 6 suddenly caught fire in his pants. The Bonn family is now fighting for 500 Euro in damages for pain and suffering with Apple, which rejects any responsibility – and accuses the family of manipulation.
Not only the 14-year-old can remember the day when the cell phone went up in flames. In the Friedrich-Ebert-Gymnasium an entire wing is evacuated. That day, the pupil arrived a little late in the classroom and wanted to get a chair. Then he noticed that something was getting hot in his trouser pocket. "I couldn't even put it down," he says. Then it suddenly started to smoke, frantically he tore his trousers off his legs – classmates helped him. Finally the teacher threw the trousers out of the window. Two floors below, the cell phone continued to burn on the frozen ground at minus ten degrees Celsius.
Although the scene lasted only a few seconds, the consequences are serious, if not threatening, according to doctors. The thigh is burnt, but healed quickly. For the family, however, the trouble continues in the weeks that follow and begins with Apple's – initially friendly – customer service. "The cell phone was replaced without any problems, we even received a newer iPhone 7," says the mother. But when it came to compensation for pain and suffering, the company began to build walls and demanded a confidentiality clause. The family was supposed to send in the defective mobile phone, which they did after consulting a first lawyer.
Apple: Investigation finds screw missing
Apple examined the mobile phone and determined after x-rays: A screw is missing inside the device. "As you can see on the pictures, the structure of the iPhone around the missing screw is intact. According to our client, the screw was therefore not lost during the incident," says the letter sent to the family by a renowned international law firm with a branch in Munich. Apple concludes that "the device was subject to unauthorized repair by third parties".
"That's why Apple rejects the claim for damages for pain and suffering," says lawyer Alexander Mein, who now represents the family. He regards it as a mistake that his predecessor sent the mobile phone to the company without having his own independent expert opinion drawn up. "Nevertheless, it is incomprehensible how a missing screw can cause the battery to ignite," says Mein.
With Samsung, another manufacturer in particular has made headlines due to battery problems. The company had admitted errors after the lithium-ion batteries often caught fire. Apple comments on the Bonn incident as follows: "There is no 'problem' with iPhones. There is no defect with iPhones. Fire damage to lithium-ion batteries can (rarely) occur, but there are usually good reasons for it."Among those listed are unchecked or unauthorized cables from third parties, unauthorized repairs or external damage to the device.
From iPhone 6: Cheaper battery replacement even after guarantee
What made the Bonn family keen-eyed: iPhones of the 6, 6s, SE and 7 series received an update at the end of 2017 that could reduce performance if the device only had a weak battery. This was to avoid unexpected shutdowns during power peaks. As compensation, Apple offered to exchange batteries significantly cheaper outside the warranty. "Why should you do that when everything is fine," asks the boy's mother.
For her family, however, the accusation of having manipulated the device has become more serious. "It was always used as prescribed, we bought it in a retail shop in Bonn and haven't had it repaired since." They don't want to cheat anyone, they just want their rights to be respected.
The claim for damages for pain and suffering amounts to 500 Euro, and an out-of-court settlement had been considered. "Since Apple refuses that, we will now let it come to a lawsuit."
(Original text: Nicolas Ottersbach; Translation: Mareike Graepel)