Apple, AT&T sued over iPhone 4 antenna problems

Another law firm claims it has received inquiries from more than 1,400 frustrated owners

Just six days after the iPhone 4's launch, a pair of Maryland residents sued Apple and AT&T, alleging that the smartphone's defective antenna design drops calls and can't hold a strong signal.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Maryland, claims that Apple knowingly sold defective phones and broke its warranty promises. The lawsuit also levels seven additional charges against Apple and AT&T, including general negligence, deceptive trade practices, fraud and misrepresentation.

Kevin McCaffrey and Linda Wrinn each pre-ordered a new iPhone from AT&T on June 15, but after receiving their phones on June 24 and 28, respectively, they experienced dropped calls because of the device's antenna design, the suit alleges.

"Plaintiffs are left with a device that cannot be used for the normal purpose and in the normal manner in which such devices are intended to be used," reads the lawsuit. "Plaintiffs are unable to return the phone without incurring a substantial restocking fee."

The lawsuit seeks class-action status, a move that if granted would allow any U.S. iPhone 4 owner to join the case.

McCaffrey and Wrinn are represented by attorneys with Ward & Ward PLLC, a Washington law firm, and Charles A. Gilman LLC of Timonium, Md.

Their lawsuit is the first stemming from complaints about substandard iPhone 4 call reception, which started last week when the new phone reached users. Almost immediately, owners reported that their phones would lose a signal, or that the signal indicator would show a weakened signal, when the smartphone was gripped in a certain way, especially if it was held in the left hand.

Hardware experts believe that holding the iPhone can bridge the two antennas embedded in the steel band that encircles the device, lowering signal strength and changing their ability to receive and transmit signals at the designed frequencies.

McCaffrey and Winn's lawsuit cited several of the accounts on the Internet of the reception problems, as well as e-mailed statements allegedly made by Apple CEO Steve Jobs to users and a leaked script for Apple support technicians that ordered them not to offer warranty service for the flaw.

The suit demands that Apple and AT&T pay compensatory and punitive damages, and that Apple be barred from selling more iPhone 4s until it has "repaired the design and/or manufacture defect."

This lawsuit will likely not be the last. Last Monday, Sacramento law firm Kershaw, Cutter & Ratinoff began soliciting potential plaintiffs who had experienced poor reception for a class-action case. Tuesday, the firm said it had received more than 1,400 e-mails from iPhone 4 owners interested in joining a lawsuit.

"Thousands of people are really unhappy with their new iPhones and Apple's response to the antenna issue," the law firm wrote on its blog.

William Kershaw, KCR's lead class-action counsel, did not respond to a request for comment on the firm's plans.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is

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