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The $54 Million Laptop 502

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the that's-a-lot-damaged-punitives dept.
Stanislav_J writes "It happens to the best of us: you drop off your laptop at the local branch of some Super Mega Electronics McStore, go to pick it up, and they can't find it. Lost, gone, kaput — probably sucked into a black hole and now breeding with lost airline luggage. It would make any of us mad, but Raelyn Campbell of Washington, D.C. isn't just mad — she's $54 million mad. That's how much she is asking from Best Buy in a lawsuit that seeks 'fair compensation for replacement of the $1,100 computer and extended warranty, plus expenses related to identity theft protection.' Best Buy claims that Ms. Campbell was offered and collected $1,110.35 as well as a $500 gift card for her inconvenience. (I guess that extra 35 cents wasn't enough to sway her.) Her blog claims that Geek Squad employees spent three months telling her different stories about where her laptop might be before finally acknowledging that it had been lost. For those who follow economic trends, this means that a laptop's worth is roughly equivalent to that of a pair of pants."
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The $54 Million Laptop

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  • Somewhat justifiable (Score:5, Informative)

    by KingSkippus (799657) * on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @06:32PM (#22412416) Homepage Journal

    She's not the loon that the submitter tries to make her out to be. There are a bunch of mitigating factors here, and I highly suggest anyone who complains about her actiosn dig a little deeper.

    The thing that really ticks me off more than anything is that the lady paid $300 for one of those ripoff store warranties. This kind of money is normally pure profit for companies, since very few people actually collect on it. However, when someone does have a problem, I expect them to fulfill their obligations on it, not lie and jerk around the customer who bought it for THREE MONTHS. To fix a friggin' POWER BUTTON.

    Also, please keep in mind that she admits that she does not expect to actually win $54 million. The reason she chose that amount is because, as stated, they've been lying to her and jerking her around for three months, and this was the only way she felt that it could get any attention.

    Normally, I frown upon these cases myself for being a drain on the system and a waste of time. But seriously, read what she's gone through [blogspot.com] before deciding that she's out of line for trying to punish them for how stupid they've been. She may not be 100% right here, but I don't think that she's 100% wrong, and I have to admit that I hope she gets a pretty high payout to strike a punitive blow against the company for its practices.

    • by EmbeddedJanitor (597831) on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @06:35PM (#22412458)
      Correction: read what she says she has gone through.

      Blogging is a creative art.

      • by Robert Y. Frost (1234400) on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @06:51PM (#22412642) Journal

        Blogging is a creative art.
        And logging is an excretive fart.
      • by Kjella (173770) on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @07:20PM (#22413050) Homepage
        While true, I'm inclined to believe pretty much anything when a big corporation actually has made some sort of mistake. You'd be amazed how extremely few can afford to say "we haven't got a clue where your machine is, but we're trying to locate it". Most likely they think it's misregistered, misplaced or misshipped somewhere and make up some phoney answer that a lot of the time will work out. By the time it's clear something's wrong, it's pass the blame time where you try to avoid being either the scapegoat or the one to tell the customer. With luck it'll go to another support rep or clerk in the store, right? Same with those cold attempts at compensation, noone wants to take responsibility and make any sort of personal interest, it's left to a bean counter that hands you a check. It's like when you get assigned something for opening your mouth, say as little as possible and hope to pass the buck.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by flappinbooger (574405)
        I read (most of) her blog. It is very informative regarding the grounds for her case. It's mostly letters and correspondence, not very much "creative" unless it's all fake. I didn't notice on there exactly what she does for a living, she isn't a lawyer, but regardless BBuy picked the wrong person to screw over. (well, if they screw over everyone, then.....)

        BBuy is great for small things like blank CD's or DVD's or USB sticks or whatever. I'm VERY hesitant to spend over $100 there or get something larg
    • Mod Parent Up (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Alaren (682568) on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @06:38PM (#22412498)

      While there are a lot of people out there looking to get their "big break" by suing a major corporation, the submitter of this summary clearly made a snap judgment about the situation. After Best Buy's policies and procedures allowed this serious error to occur, the complainant took it upon herself to make a positive difference. She never accepted payment from Best Buy--the unilaterally made a deposit to her credit card and sent her a gift certificate (!!!), which she donated to charity when they refused to discuss the matter.

      When a big company like Best Buy creates a problem, the best way to get that problem corrected is to make them feel the pinch. If their half-cocked "remedies" and attempts to keep the problem quiet can be chalked up to the "cost of doing business," then they will never change their practices.

      • Re:Mod Parent Up (Score:5, Interesting)

        by provigilman (1044114) on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @06:43PM (#22412540) Homepage Journal
        True, not to mention the fact that she seems fully aware that $54 Million is an unreaslistic sum that she'll never get. Suing for that amount did get one thing though...media attention. Now Best Buy's practices are being aired out in front of everyone.

        Even if she eventually settles for legal fees + 5-10K the damage to Best Buy's rep has already been done.

        • by arivanov (12034) on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @06:48PM (#22412602) Homepage

          ... the damage to Best Buy's rep has already been done.

          You mean, "free advertisement for Best Buy has already been done"

          With the current reputation of Best Buy or PC World it is not like you can damage it any further. That will require using irrational numbers and complex math to compute it.

        • by JonTurner (178845) on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @06:54PM (#22412712) Journal
          Yeah $54,000,000 sounds absurd. But did she have any original content on that computer? Photos, songs, stories, spreadsheets, etc.? If she created it, she owns the copyright.
          I ask because, if the courts allow the MPAA to sue kids for tens of thousands PER SONG for simply sharing a copywritten work, then why not let her sue for tens of thousands for each of HER original works? After all, her damages are much WORSE than those claimed by the music industry -- her content has been permanently destroyed/lost, while the music industry still has their content and can continue to sell it.

          (Frankly, I don't think either case deserves what they're asking. Reimburse market price or some small multiple of *actual market price* as a punitive measure -- $1100 for the laptop lady. $.99 per song for the music company.)
    • I don't fault the store for losing her laptop; it's incompetent and they should pay for it, but it happens on occasion, as do things like laptops falling off the workbench and smashing. You expect that to happen to every x% of the customers, and try to keep x small.

      The local store lying about how they know where it is and they'll get it back to her Real Soon, on the other hand, and not taking responsibility for compensating her for losing it, is much closer to malice than incompetence, and they should get

      • "Do you have backups? Let's burn you some DVDs now!"
        At these types of stores it's usually like this:

        The guys at [headquarters|vendor] like to erase hard drives. I'm sure you don't want anything to happen to your disk. For only $99.95 plus $49.95/DVD we can back your data up before we send your computer out for repair. Just sign here.

        I made the $-figures up but I'm probably not far off.
      • Why are backups a topic in this case? It's not a matter of her losing the information, it's a matter of someone else GETTING her information.

        If a bank loses a laptop with customer data on it, does the bank just go, "Don't worry, we've got backups of the data. Your information isn't lost."? Just because it's one person shouldn't make notification any different.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        You have no idea how hard it is to find something once it's been sent to Geek Squad City. It's hell. You call them up, try to get someone on the phone, give them the case number, they check the system (same one you are looking at that says "in repair" and they tell you the same thing you already know. Then they say they will look around and call you back. They don't call you back, you call them, the person you talked to is not there now, you start over.

        All you can get is a rough estimate of it's loca

      • by joggle (594025)
        If she couldn't turn the computer on she may not have been able to make backups before hand (I didn't RTFA though). Which is why 'Time Machine' of the Macs is nice since most people wouldn't make regular backups otherwise.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Zymergy (803632) *
        I feel sorry for the lady in this situation. It is too bad she did not have a backup.
        Still, it will be difficult for her to "prove" that she had the formula for Coke, the Cure for Cancer, or where she put her car keys, etc.. on her laptop's HDD. I wish her luck.

        OTOH, I maintain two separate physical hard drives for my PC laptop.
        I simply removed the original OEM HDD as soon as I unboxed my laptop and I used (Drive Copy 4.0 boot floppies) to create an EXACT clone of the original HDD (onto a larger and
    • FTA: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by BeeBeard (999187)
      [quote]Campbell said that she doesn't really expect to get $54 million, but chose the amount to attract attention to her case.[/quote]

      When I saw the total in the summary, I immediately thought "What's the big deal, she's trying to get punatives." Then read the article and saw that it wasn't even that. As usual, if you read just a few more paragraphs beyond what is quoted in Slashdot's article summary, the whole story is skewed much differently differently.

      However, there is still room for debate on the issue
      • by gfxguy (98788)
        The "identity theft" argument is incredibly specious. Unless she has done something foolish that would contribute to the insecurity of the machine (credit card numbers as a text file on the laptop hard drive) or failed to backup any important data--itself a cardinal sin--then how is Raelyn Campbell's situation any different from anyone else's who has had a computer stolen from them?

        Password manager in your web browser... Firefox respectably doesn't save every password, but there are sites for which it has n
      • by tdelaney (458893)

        One of the claims (not in the linked article) is that she did not accept the money - BB unilaterally credited her card, and sent her a $500 gift certificate which she donated to a non-profit. BB is spinning that she "accepted" the payment.

        From her blog [blogspot.com]

        Funds received to date total $1110.35, which were unilaterally transferred into my credit card account by Best Buy in late October -- without my knowledge or consent. The amount does not even cover the full cost of replacing the laptop itself, let alone a

      • by langelgjm (860756)

        However, there is still room for debate on the issue of whether she was treated fairly. FTA, "Best Buy spokeswoman Nissa French said in an e-mail that Campbell "was offered and collected $1,110.35" as well as "a $500 gift card for her inconvenience." The reasonable market value of the laptop that was stolen (in all likelihood by a Best Buy employee!) + $500 in merchandise? That seems like a reasonable way to try to dispose of any claim--especially since Ms. Campbell already accepted these items.

        Except that she didn't "accept" them. From her blog:

        Funds received to date total $1110.35, which were unilaterally transferred into my credit card account by Best Buy in late October -- without my knowledge or consent.

        As for the gift card:

        Best Buy also sent a $500 gift card to me in mid-October (with no explanation and despite repeatedly communicating that I had no interest in a gift card that would force me to patronize their stores). I subsequently advised them that I would donate it to a non-profit organization unless they requested its return, and did so in December, after not receiving a response.

        Furthermore, Best Buy should have offered more than the "market value" of the laptop - remember, this transfer was made in October, while the laptop had been missing since May

      • Re:FTA: (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Volante3192 (953645) on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @07:12PM (#22412944)
        how is Raelyn Campbell's situation any different from anyone else's who has had a computer stolen from them?

        A) It was left at a trusted* location, hence where it was was assumed to be known.
        B) It wasn't stolen, persay. Officially, it was lost.
        C) It took three months for Best Buy to fess up to losing it.

        Normally when your laptop gets stolen from you, you have a pretty good idea when that happens, I would wager within 24 hours you'd know it's missing. You don't sit down at a meeting one day and realize, "Holy crap, my laptop was stolen three months ago! I better start doing something about that!"

        *Let's not quibble over the definition of trusted. It was believed to be a trusted location at least, and that's what matters.
    • by Xzzy (111297)
      However, when someone does have a problem, I expect them to fulfill their obligations on it, not lie and jerk around the customer who bought it for THREE MONTHS.

      Experiences with these in-store warranties can vary quite a bit. Obviously this lady had a bad one. When I was gifted an xbox several years ago, the person who bought it for me got a 2 year warranty on the thing. Up until then I'd always felt the warranty was a waste.. but a year later the xbox went tits up. Took it into the store and they refunded
    • Simple enough to figure out. That's why there's tracking numbers for UPS and Fedex.

    • by rfunches (800928)

      I guess this isn't a one-time problem with "losing" a laptop. A family member purchased a laptop at CompUSA (well before they folded) and got an extended warranty because every laptop purchased by the family has at least one hardware failure outside of the manufacturer's warranty. In this case the laptop was sent back on the extended warranty because the wireless card had died. Two weeks later, no laptop, and a call to the store yielded nothing. A week later, the store admitted they had no idea where the la

  • by CyberLord Seven (525173) on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @06:32PM (#22412428)
    ...then I have no problem with her claim.
  • by drcagn (715012) on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @06:34PM (#22412442) Homepage
    Was that what Best Buy did was illegal. From ars technica:

    "Campbell's tax returns were on her laptop, and Best Buy apparently violated Washington, DC's security breach notification laws by not telling her about the potential data loss. And the potential for data theft as a result of missing equipment is no laughing matter: the state of Ohio, TSA, IRS, US Department of Transportation, and the Veterans Administration have all lost equipment (often laptops) that have forced them to alert millions of citizens to watch out for identity theft. Campbell says that she still hasn't heard from Best Buy on that particular issue, and has been forced to incur extra costs to monitor all of her accounts for suspicious activity."

    On top of that, the victim also notes that she herself thinks 54 mil is too much, but thinks it is necessary to get the media attention to make Best Buy do the right thing.

    http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20080212-victim-54-million-best-buy-lawsuit-stupid-but-necessary.html [arstechnica.com]
    • by CSMatt (1175471)
      Nah. She's just sore because some idiot thought that she was the CEO of Campbell's Soup and sued her because he burned his tongue on his chicken noodles.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by SlashdotOgre (739181)

      On top of that, the victim also notes that she herself thinks 54 mil is too much, but thinks it is necessary to get the media attention to make Best Buy do the right thing.

      She seems to want a minimum of $100,000 according to her blog http://www.bestbuybadbuyboycott.blogspot.com/ [blogspot.com] which I feel is a bit much even for what she claims to have gone through. From her blog:

      3) Full compensation ($25,000, per my letter to Mr. Feivor) for my direct expenses and time related to restoring my property and resolving this issue. 4) Treble and other damages in the amount of $75,000, for the completely unnecessary 6- month ordeal Best Buy has put me through.

      Yeah, what happened sucks, but I'm of the opinion what she's asking for is still a bit unreasonable. I'm by no means an apologist for Best Buy, in fact I really dislike them, but I think 54 mil is completely ludicrous and $100,000 is a bit greedy.

      • by Andy_R (114137) on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @07:11PM (#22412928) Homepage Journal
        It's going to take a considerable blow to the corporate bank balance before top management at Best Buy will stop treating the loss as 'yeah we lose some cash to mad women now and then' and actually spend time and effort on making sure this never ever happens again.

        While $100,000 is more than enough to *give to her*, I'm not sure it's anywhere near enough to be *taken from them*.
      • by dubbreak (623656) on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @07:26PM (#22413130)

        but I think 54 mil is completely ludicrous and $100,000 is a bit greedy.

        Punitive damages really don't have much to do with greed on the part of the plaintiff , but rather punishment on the defense side. If the judge thinks Best Buy was negligent and should be punished, then the amount has to be significant enough for them to "hurt" and want to avoid it in the future.

        Best Buy is a big company. My guess is it'd take more than a million dollars to make them flinch.
  • Similar Situation (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Zaphod The 42nd (1205578) on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @06:36PM (#22412466)
    A friend of mine had a similar situation with Best Buy. He bought a computer from them, with warranty, and something (I can't recall what) went wrong, so he brought it in. He waited some two months and it never came back, with the geek squad continually telling him "this weekend we'll have it!" and each time he drove down there they'd go "nope, not yet, try next weekend." Finally, I went with him (knowing a thing or two about retail) and pulled aside the manager, and made it clear to him that we were extremely unhappy, and explaining that this simple maintainance had taken over two months. Finally, after hearing at least 10 different stories and being asked to call 5 different numbers for other people who were supposed to know where it was, we finally found out that it had been lost into the void. One would then think the problem would be resolved; but no! Apparently Best Buy and whoever shipped the laptop off to be fixed were arguing over who's fault it was and who should buy my friend a new laptop. Thats why when my stuff breaks, I fix it. Then I know where it is and how long it'll take, exactly.
    • When I finally filed a complaint with my state's attorney general the runaround ended (within a week) and I got a very prompt replacement, a written apology, and a substantial gift card. I'm upset though that my six months of $2500 television hell were only worth $200 compared to this lady's two months of $1100 PC hell being worth a $500 gift card.

      Maybe I should sue Best Buy for their disciminatory ass-kissing policy ...
    • Re:Similar Situation (Score:5, Interesting)

      by RingDev (879105) on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @06:50PM (#22412636) Homepage Journal
      I've worked in a few different tech retail stores. And at each of them at least 1 person (usually middle management) is busted for walking off with repair units, RTVs, or stuff right off the truck.

      Heck, the first CompUSA I worked at in high school, the front end manager was busted for skimming the drawers. The cage manager got busted with his van at the loading doc moving inventory out. The tech bench manager skipped town with thousands of dollars worth of memory and processors. The General Manager got busted on tax evasion. All within a year and a half time span.

      I had a friend pick up a job there a year later while I was in the military, they had all new management, with new vices. Instead of ripping off the store/customers, the wound up with a bunch of small time pot dealers in supervisor/middle management positions. Not like they were doing business in the store, but their smoke breaks were a taken in back by the loading doc. On the bright side though, they got great customer reviews for their friendliness and chipper attitude.

      -Rick
    • by corsec67 (627446)
      Wow, compared to that kind of mess, ordering stuff from Newegg is crazy fast. Sure, it takes 3 days to arrive, but that is much less than "next weekend", even if it is only 1 week away.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @06:57PM (#22412740)
    I work part-time as a Geek Squad Agent within a Best Buy location (posting anonymously for obvious reasons). I have been told first-hand by more than one manager on more than one occasion to lie to a customer when it comes to damage and/or loss to their products that is the fault of Best Buy. On the numerous occasions I have protested this type of "customer service" I have been told that to admit anything is to open the company up to liability.

    I roll my eyes at a lot of the complaints leveled at the company b/c I stand on the other side of the counter. However, this one is completely true and happens frequently on a wide-spread basis. I hope she wins this case and forces corporate to change a blatantly anti-customer policy.

  • Good for you collective Slashdotters that happen to know better! I know better too! I run Linux on my Dell computer, but I kept the originally shipping hard drive in an anti-static bag in the event that support is actually needed on the hardware and they choose to run me through those ridiculous scripts. (Yes, I actually run Linux...)

    Most people simply don't know better and they certainly don't know what they are signing when they sign various release documents. What they know is what they are being tol
  • by fermion (181285) on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @07:03PM (#22412826) Homepage Journal
    Even without any mitigating circumstances, awards such as these serve the purpose of encouraging honesty and responsibility. Even from the skewed summary, one thing that stands out was it took three months for best buy to take responsibility. Just think of how it might have turned out if Best Buy has taken this tact. After a week admit that the laptop might be lost. Offer to replace the laptop, along with a gift card, no strings attached. if the laptop is found, the customer gets that one as well.

    Assuming that Best buy only loses 1 laptop per hour, that is less than 2 million dollars a year, probably mostly tax deductible. Such a policy may even provide a competitive advantage as it will clearly indicate that Best Buy is dedicated to customer service and will not jerk their customers around. We know that the opposite is true, but such a gimmick could change this.

    In the end best buy will prefer to spend 2 millions dollars on lawyers rather than establish protocols to increase customer value.

  • by tubapro12 (896596) <ubelkatze2004 AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @07:06PM (#22412862) Journal
    That's one laptop, one pair of pants, or in RIAA-land, that's 36 CD, cheap half empty CDs at that.
  • Punative (Score:4, Insightful)

    by nick_davison (217681) on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @07:10PM (#22412918)
    From what I understand, the amount has nothing to do with the value of the laptop...

    It has everything to do with a refusal to acknowledge they'd lost it, making constant excuses for a long time, followed by a refusal to pay up promptly even what it was undeniable.

    It was only after she threatened to sue for the large amount that they finally got around to paying the smaller amount. Until they were in danger, they weren't in any hurry to deal with it.

    There's often minimal incentive to avoid repeating the mistake if all you ever have to pay is actual physical cost, ignoring value of lost data, and you can get away with postponing making that payment, requiring endless forms of validation, follow up calls where they sit on hold for hours, etc. until they give up.

    The idea of punative damages is that it's accepted that a bare minimum effort doesn't come close to being adequate and a dramatically higher cost is required to spur them in to acting in the way they knew they should have in the first place.

    If BestBuy had got on and acknowledge the loss, promptly paying up, they likely wouldn't be facing this. Instead, their responding only when threatened with large punative damages, demonstrated that that's exactly what's necessary to get them to truly fulfill their obligations.

    Had she asked for millions the instant they lost it, she'd get laughed out of court. That they demonstrated a complete unwillingness to address the issue until they were faced with that kind of a threat is going to get noted in a court case.

    She'll unlikely see the $50m+. She'll be lucky if she sees $5m that gets reduced to $500k on appeal. But the pain of facing that, getting lawyers involved and all the rest of it is going to make an impression on BB policy for the future far more than any number of angry letters will.
  • Punitive damages (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tommyatomic (924744) on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @07:14PM (#22412968)
    The thing about the term "Punitive" is that it means to punish. Now if she were only sueing for $100,000 that wouldnt actually qualify as punishment for an international megacorperation like BestBuy. On a good week a single bestbuy store could easily bring in $100,000 and completely swallow the loss. So as punishments go thats akin to sentincing a three time convicted car thief to a week of comunity service. 54 million is alot closer to something that would actually punish them. Clearly she thought this out and from reading her timeline I feel that she gave them more than ample time to properly rectify the situation.

    If you think it thru she started by being quite reasonable and not getting any response. Then the response she got was close to criminal. And now they are trying to make her the badguy. I hope BestBuy gets p0wn'd.
  • by OldSoldier (168889) on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @08:59PM (#22414192)
    That article linked to in the summary from the Minneapolis StarTribune is the worst piece of journalism I've seen in a while. It is in stark contrast to the facts of the article as reported in Ms Campbell's blogspot entry.

    For example:
    "Campbell, who could not be reached Tuesday," - Campbell's whole point of this is to get exposure. I seriously doubt she intentionally avoided the call. How long did Jackie Crosby give Ms Campbell to reply? 10 minutes?

    "Best Buy Spokeswoman said Campbell was offered and collected $1110.35" if you read Ms Campbell's story BB deposited this straight into her credit card account w/o prior discussion. Would have been nice if Ms Crosby mentioned this fact in her news story.

    "Melissa Ngo, senior counsel with the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, D.C., ... said consumers need to get smart about protecting their data to avoid such situations." This is completely off topic.

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