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Getting Dabs.com to Repair My Laptop (via the Courts)

emoticon:avocado Some time ago (about four months) I blogged about my difficulties with Fujitsu and Dabs.com; trying to get them to repair a laptop that failed.

The short version is that the DVD drive fell out of the laptop a few months after I bought it. This wasn't actually a problem until it stopped working as well - almost a year after I bought it. Unfortunately, due to moving house, it was just after a year since I bought the laptop when I took this up with Dabs.com and Fujitsu. Because it was a few days outside of warranty they both refused to fix it.

I warned Dabs [1] that I would take them to court if they refused to repair the laptop and they ignored me. Well, the story just got longer and stranger...

In my previous blog entry about this several of my American readers seemed to think that Dabs' response was reasonable - after all the laptop was outside warranty. This leads me to believe that consumer law is a lot stronger in the UK than it is in the US. In the UK, if someone sells you something, it has to be fit for purpose and not suffer from manufacturing defects - which includes a requirement that it stay working for a reasonable period of time. If something stops working then the fact that the manufacturer or retailer offers a limited warranty (limited in time or liability) does not reduce their legal responsibility or your statutory rights (UK Sale of Goods Act).

The balance to this is that if you report the problem after some period of time (for expensive goods six months seems to be the accepted limit) then it is up to you to demonstrate that the problem was pre-existing [2].

As the drive first fell out within a few months of us buying the laptop (and it had never suffered any damage - despite Dabs claiming I must have damaged it) it seemed obvious that the problem was a manufacturing defect of some kind. In this situation the UK law is pretty clear - Dabs should have repaired the drive (or replaced or refunded the laptop) and the warranty is irrelevant.

Because I was fairly confident of this I decided that I would take Dabs.com to the small claims court (the County Court in England). The whole procedure was pretty straightforward, and correspondingly interesting. It is the first time I have done this as an individual [3].

The first step is to send a 'letter of action' to the company, stating exactly what you want and giving them a timed deadline to do it and warning them that you will proceed with a claim if they don't.

Having done that (and received no response) I then filled in the court paperwork, asking for three hundred pounds compensation for the repair of the laptop. The fees for this are thirty pounds which will be added to your compensation if you win.

The paperwork requires a summary and a full version of your case. You can provide whatever paper evidence you want along with this, and refer to it in the full version. I had kept all the letters and emails I had sent and included them all in my description of the saga (including the part where they first agree to repair and then tell me it must be my fault).

These papers are then sent to the defendant (Dabs in my case) and they have fourteen days to respond.

They ignored this as well - and so I was allowed to ask for default judgement. Yesterday I received a copy of the default judgement, which was an order for Dabs.com to pay me three hundred pounds compensation plus thirty pounds cost.

Hurrah you might think. Kind of. That was the longer bit. Now it gets odder.

The same day as I received the judgement from the court I also received an email from Dabs.com giving me a returns number for the laptop (and no other communication). This was a bit confusing, but I wondered if they had decided to do the right thing and offer a repair or a full refund.

After exchanging several incredulous emails with them, it turns out that they are claiming that the three hundred and thirty pounds compensation the court has awarded me is a refund - and that if I don't return the laptop to them (at my own cost naturally) then they will invoice me for it!

Naturally this has no merit, but it looks like the story isn't over yet. sigh

In the meantime I intend to write this story up for some of the UK computer magazines. More people need to know how Dabs treats their customers and that you can get compensation if you take things to court.

For those interested in the details, here is the summary of my claim:

Dabs.com plc
National Logistics Centre, Wingates Industrial Estate
Westhoughton, Bolton
BL5 3XU

The claimant is claiming 300 pounds for the repair of a laptop that he purchased from Dabs.com. Shortly after purchase the DVD drive fell out, and later stopped functioning altogether - rendering the laptop unusable. Without ever seeing the laptop they are claiming that the failed drive was caused by physical damage and refuse to repair or replace it. The laptop has never suffered physical damage that could have caused this, and the problem can only have been caused by inadequate internal fixing.

The full details (minus the supporting paperwork of course):

In January 2007 I bought a Fujitsu-Siemens laptop from Dabs.com (Document 1). Shortly afterwards (within two months of receiving the laptop - but I don't know the exact date) the DVD drive from the laptop fell out, but continued to work. The laptop has been used almost entirely in the house by my wife, and has never suffered any physical damage that could have caused the drive to fall out (both before the initial failure and since). The only possible explanation is that the drive had faulty or inadequate internal fixing when it was purchased.

We continued to use the laptop, but didn't discover that the DVD drive had stopped functioning (making it impossible to install software on the laptop) until December. Due to pressure of work and moving house I didn't report the failure (to the manufacturer as instructed on the Dabs.com website) until January. (see document 2).

It took Fujitsu a month to decide they wouldn't help (see documents 3, 4 and 5).

I then contacted Dabs.com by email and their website contact form. Initially they offered to collect and repair the laptop. (See documents 6, 7 and 8.)

They then (without ever seeing the laptop) suddenly decided that the problem was caused by 'physical damage' and refused to repair it. (See documents 9 & 10.)

I contacted them several more times to try and resolve this, but they simply stopped replying. (See documents 11, 12 & 13.)

On 29th April I sent them a letter of action informing them that they had 14 days to arrange repair, replacement or refund of the laptop or I would proceed with court action. They have never replied. (See document 14.)

I have been informed that the replacement of the drive and connector will cost 300 pounds, including labour and carriage. This is the amount I am claiming from the plaintiff (plus costs).

As the laptop is not fit for purpose without a working DVD drive, and it is caused by a manufacturing fault, it is unacceptable that Dabs.com refuses to honour their legal obligations under the Sale of Goods act.

If you have kept the supporting paperwork, the process is not too onerous. I wonder how this will play out. I half suspect that they only want to issue me an invoice so that they can sell 'the debt' to a debt collector. If it ever goes to court they wouldn't have a leg to stand on. A nasty trick anyway.

[1]The sad thing is that under a different account I have spent quite a bit of money with Dabs over the past two years.
[2]I am not a lawyer etc (i.e. ignore everything I say and do your own research)... The word 'demonstrate' in that context probably means that burden of proof on you is to show 'in the balance of probabilities' (i.e. you don't have to prove beyond reasonable doubt).
[3]I've been involved in a small claims court claim to try and recover some money from a customer in a previous job - actually having to attend the hearing as it was contested (but I had nothing to do with the paperwork for this case). We lost for a very interesting reason. The judge (or magistrate - I forget) seemed to agree that the customer probably owed us the money, but due to an ambiguity in the paperwork our computer produced he held that we hadn't proven it. As we were taking him to court, the burden was on us to prove that he owed us the money.

For the sake of good old google, Dabs sucks and Dabs.com sucks too.

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Posted by Fuzzyman on 2008-08-28 23:43:58 | |

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