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Apple sued by State Farm over alleged iPhone fire

Commentary: The insurer and one of its customers jointly sue Apple, claiming a battery defect led to a fire at her home.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


Did Xai Thao buy a defective iPhone 4S? A lawsuit alleges that was the case.

Josh Miller/CNET

Exploding phones were all the rage after Samsung's Note 7 debacle last year.

But Samsung is hardly alone among phone makers that have seen, at one time or another, devices of their making experience a flaming event. 

Often -- as in the case of the Note 7 -- batteries are to blame.

In a new case, indeed, insurer State Farm and one of its customers, Wisconsin resident Xai Thao, allege that one of Apple's older iPhones had a defective battery that led to a fire last year.

A lawsuit filed on Thursday by both State Farm and Thao claims that her iPhone 4S "failed" and "started a fire at Thao's home."

The lawsuit further claims that "preliminary investigations show evidence of a significant and localized heating event in the battery area of the iPhone." It also declares that there were "remnants of internal shorting, indicating that an internal failure of the iPhone's battery caused the fire." 

Thao insists that she had not done anything to the battery at all.

The lawyers involved did not respond to a request for comment about who'd performed these preliminary investigations. Apple likewise didn't respond to a request for comment. A State Farm spokesman, meanwhile, told me: "State Farm rarely comments on pending litigation and in this case has nothing to share. Our filings speak for themselves."

But do they? It's unclear from the lawsuit, for example, whether the phone was being charged at the time and, if so, what charger might have been used. It's also unclear whether Apple was ever given the chance to examine the phone.

In a number of incidents of exploding or overheating phones, the devices had been charging at the critical moment.

But not in all cases. In 2015, a New Jersey man claimed that an iPhone 5C exploded in his pocket and caused third-degree burns

The State Farm lawsuit says that Thao's iPhone was "in a defective and unreasonably dangerous condition" when she bought it in 2014. 

The suit is claiming in excess of $75,000 in damages. The lawsuit says that Thao had to pay a proportion of the the damages out of her own pocket.

Skeptics might wonder why the phone allegedly caught fire at that moment, two years after it was bought. The iPhone 4S hasn't been linked with major incidents of fire hazard since in launched in 2011.

Originally published July 23 at 11:18 a.m. PT.
Updated at 4:04 p.m. PT: Added comment from State Farm.

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