Small Claims Lawsuits

[This web page is no longer maintained, and the email address is no longer monitored on a regular basis, but I am leaving them up for informational/historical purposes.]

Compiled by Steve Linke
Last updated 2/28/2012

This web page provides general legal information on consumer protection laws and the filing of small claims lawsuits. However, I am not an attorney, and the content is provided for informational purposes only. It should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. The facts and environment surrounding each individual case are different (e.g., date of purchase/repair, model number, warranty status, number of problem occurrences, length of trouble-free operation, lengths of statutes of limitations and other applicable consumer protection laws in the state of residence, small claims court rules of procedure/evidence, individual judge/court officer, etc.). The likelihood and magnitude of success in small claims court likely depends on these factors, and perhaps others. You should not act or refrain from acting on the basis of any content here without seeking appropriate legal or other professional advice based on the particular facts and circumstances in your case. The content also may not reflect current legal developments, verdicts, or settlements.

 
Decision to file

The best settlement offers from Sony tend to come after an individual customer files a small claims lawsuit (many have been reported in the $500-$1,500 range), and a few customers who have gone through with their trials have been awarded sizable judgments against Sony (e.g., ~$700-$2,300). See descriptions of some individual cases in the sections below.

However, there are certain costs and risks associated with this approach. Court-related fees are typically quite low (e.g., less than $100 total), but they are larger in some states, and you will have to spend some time preparing your case. If you lose your case, you also may forfeit the ability to exercise a Sony offer and/or the potential ability to benefit from a future class action judgment.

If you are considering filing a small claims lawsuit against Sony, you should check your state and local laws and procedures for small claims. This FreeAdvice web page has links for each state through which information and forms should be available. If not, try Googling your state's name and "small claims".

Are attorneys allowed or now allowed in court, and are procedural rules strict or relaxed?

See this site for links to general guidance from each State on small claims lawsuits, including whether attorneys are allowed and how strict the procedural rules are. States like California have strong consumer protection laws, do not allow attorneys in small claims court, and have informal evidence requirements (letters/emails and other written/printed documents tend to be accepted). This is favorable for the plaintiff. In contrast, states like New Jersey allow attorneys and have very strict rules of procedure (e.g., supporting evidence must be presented by live, in-person witnesses).

Another example is a requirement that any technical issues be established by in-person expert witnesses. If your state allows attorneys in small claims court, and Sony decides to send one (which they typically do), it will likely be more difficult, requiring more research and case preparation time. If your state has strict rules of procedure, you will be at a significant disadvantage. That said, cases have been won in states that allow attorneys. You should determine how things work in your state, and then weigh the benefits and risks to come to a personal decision.

On the other hand, many customers have reached settlements with Sony prior to the trial. In addition, if you arrive at your trial and feel the cards are stacked heavily against you, it may be possible to request that your case be "dismissed without prejudice". That could allow you to take legal action in the future when you are more prepared, and it could improve your chances of benefiting from a class action settlement or judgment in the future, if one occurs. And, if you lose your case or get it dismissed, you may still be able to get a standard offer from Sony, if you call them. None of this is guaranteed, though.

Is it too late to file (what is the statute of limitations in your state)?
 
This is a very gray area. See these sites (1 and 2) for examples of listings of statutes of limitations for each state. Most states allow 3-6 years from the "breach".  The numbers in these lists are not necessarily accurate (they may not even agree with each other and/or may be outdated). In some states, the statutes of limitations vary depending on whether your case is based on a breach of the express warranty (Sony's written warranty) or breach of an implied warranty. Other states do not list separate statutes of limitations for warranty breaches at all, and, in those cases, statutes of limitations for breach of a written contract may (or may not) apply.

There is also a question of when the statute of limitations begins running due to the actual breach. For express warranties, the breach would typically be considered to have occurred when the company refuses to repair or replace the product free of charge, despite the fact that it is still under an express warranty. For breach of an implied warranty, most states likely consider the breach to have occurred on the date of purchase, because the latent defect existed at that time. Other states may consider the breach to have occurred when you reasonably should have discovered the defect (e.g., when you first saw a discoloration). In most cases, though, if you had one or more repairs done already, each of which you presumed would fix your TV, the statute of limitations clock would reset to the date of the last repair. Consult a local legal professional, if you desire additional information.

Demand letter

If you have reviewed your legal situation (preferably with the guidance of legal professional) and conclude that small claims is a potential avenue for relief, it is frequently useful/required to send a demand letter to Sony and allow them 30 days to respond. The demand letter should describe your situation, contain a demand (e.g., free repair or replacement of your TV), and a warning that you will be taking legal action if they do not comply with your demand. Seek professional legal advice

Sony Electronics
Attn: Executive Review Committee
12451 Gateway Blvd
Fort Myers, FL 33913
 
Where to file?

One way to view an optical block lawsuit is that Sony breached a warranty contract with you and/or defrauded you in your home county, so the most appropriate place to sue them is there. Some states may not allow this, though. For example, they may require that you file in a county where Sony does business. Contact your local small claims court for guidance.
 
Who to designate as the defendant and which mailing address to use?

The most appropriate entity to sue is:
 
Sony Electronics Inc.
16530 Via Esprillo
San Diego, CA 92127-1708
 
However, the above mailing address is not necessarily the correct one to designate on your form. Sony should have a "registered agent" in each state, typically based in the state's capital city. You should be able to find the address of their registered agent by searching for "Sony Electronics" in the business records search page of the Secretary of State's web site for your state. This is not always a straight-forward process, and not all states make this information freely available (e.g., New Jersey), but it should be possible. This CivilTree.com "Find Small Claims Agents" web site has links to the appropriate search pages for each state. Sony seems to use a company called "Corporation Service Company" as their registered agent in most or all states. For example, in California, the registered agent's address is as follows:
 
Agent: Corporation Service Company Lawyers Inc.
2730 Gateway Oaks Dr Ste 100
Sacramento, CA 95833-3503
 
Some states, like California, have separate entries on the small claims filing form for the defendant and the mailing address. In that case, you can report both. Other states only have one entry, so you may want to put something like "Sony Electronics Inc. c/o [registered agent's name]" followed by the registered agent's address. It is the registered agent's duty to forward all legal papers they receive to the proper people at Sony. Please consult with you county Clerk of Court, other court-related official, and/or an attorney to make sure you designate the proper names and addresses.
 
What to claim?

One example of a brief claim is as follows: "Defendant manufactured LCD rear-projection HD TVs with widespread latent defects. Plaintiff unknowingly purchased one of these TVs. Defendant has been unwilling or unable to repair or replace the defective TV, thereby breaching warranties and violating consumer protection laws." In theory, you can ask for the original purchase price of the TV plus any repair or diagnostic fees and, in many states, your court costs. If you win, the judge may lower your award, but that is OK.
 
What will Sony do after the lawsuit is filed?

Sony has consistently improved their offers after receiving the papers, including free repair, deeply discounted prices on replacement TVs, and cash settlements that are confidential but likely fall into the $500-$1,500 depending on your model and state of residence. There is no guarantee that this will continue or occur in all cases. This may also trigger mediation, which could also result in better offers. If you engage in confidential negotiations with Sony attorneys, I recommend that you remain friendly and professional, but do not necessarily reveal the evidence you plan to use at the trial. And just like many other deals, you should not necessarily accept their first offer, but rather negotiate for a better one.

Another thing that Sony routinely does is attempt to delay the trial dates with adjournment requests. They claim in a form letter that they are unable to have a representative present due to scheduling conflicts. Here are three examples from three different jurisdictions: New York, Massachusetts, and Georgia. Although some courts may automatically grant such requests, others do not, and you may be able to cite Sony's usage of this form letter to prevent it.
 
Legal arguments to raise at the hearing/trial?

If you choose to refuse any new offers from Sony and go ahead with your lawsuit, there are a number of legal arguments you can make.

Note: Statutory and common/case law varies by state, so the following information is provided for informational purposes only. It should not be relied upon as legal advice. See this site for additional general guidance from each State on small claims lawsuits.

A good bet for a legal argument is to claim that Sony breached the "implied warranty of merchantability" on the TV due to the fact that the optical block contained "latent defects" at the time of your original purchase, yet Sony refuses to repair your TV or replace it free of charge. Federal law requires that consumer goods, such as expensive electronics, must be sold in a condition in which they can be used for their intended purpose (be "merchantable"). Defects(s) that exist in a product at the time of original sale (in this case, "latent defects" in the optical block and/or parts that insufficiently cool the optical block) can cause that product to be considered non-merchantable. Information from this web site or elsewhere potentially can be used to establish that the latent defects existed at the time of purchase, rendering the time limit on the express warranty (one to two years) irrelevant.

In some states, the implied warranty of merchantability expires at the same time as the express warranty. However, in other states, it extends beyond that point. In those states, the consumer typically must inform the manufacturer of the problem within four years of purchase. So, just because the latent defect(s) were not discoverable by the consumer until after the express warranty had expired (due to slow degradation of optical block parts over time) does not prevent invoking the implied warranty. This is one of the main strategies of the class-action lawsuits against Sony. The following states may fall into the longer implied warranty category, although you will need to look up the specific laws: Alabama, California, Connecticut, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia.

For example, in California, the implied warranty of merchantability is covered by the Song-Beverly Act (California Civil Code starting at Section 1790), which was further clarified by a 6/15/2009 Opinion from the 4th District Court of Appeals in Mexia vs. Rinker Boat Company, Inc. In this case, a consumer purchased a boat with a motor, but a few years later it was established that the motor had a latent defect at the time of the original sale that caused it to immediately begin corroding. Although the corrosion did not become evident to the purchaser until well after the one-year express warranty had expired, the court ruled that the seller was responsible to make the boat/motor merchantable under California's "implied warranty of merchantability" law, because the latent defect that led to the corrosion existed at the time of the original sale. This situation seems analogous to the latent defect in Sony optical blocks that degrade over time and often become evident to the purchaser only after any express warranties have expired. I successfully used this strategy in a small-claims lawsuit against Sony (see the next section).

So, you can argue strongly that you paid a large amount of money for a TV that was defective out of the box, and that you want them to fully cover the repair with parts that eliminate the latent defect(s) in order to make the TV merchantable, or to fully cover the cost of replacing the TV with a new merchantable TV of equivalent size and features. For those who have already had the optical block replaced once, and the problem recurs, an excellent argument can be made that the TV was not made merchantable after you informed the manufacturer of the problem the first time, so they are still responsible to fully cover a repair or replacement that provides you with a merchantable TV. You can also read the Class Action Complaints available on the web sites (above) for ideas on how to approach your case.

UNDER CONSTRUCTION--PLEASE REFER TO THE FOLLOWING SECTION FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
 

Individual small claims lawsuits

There are likely many other cases that are not listed here due to under-reporting. The main reasons behind losses seem to be statute of limitations technicalities and jurisdictions/judges who require in-person expert testimony to establish the defective nature of the TVs.

Steve Linke (California; 10/28/2009; KDF-55WF655; $2,307.56 judgment)

Steven P. Linke v. Sony Electronics Inc. (California Small Claims Case No: 37-2009-00014241-SC-SC-NC)

I purchased my 2004 3LCD model KDF-55WF655 in December of 2004. It had its optical block replaced in July of 2007 under Sony's warranty extension due to blue haze. The blue haze again became evident in August of 2009. After getting an unacceptable final offer from Sony Customer Relations, I sent the following appeal letter to Sony's Executive Review Committee on September 7, 2009, which also served as the "Demand Letter" in my small claims lawsuit:
Letter to Executive Review Committee (Demand Letter).

After receiving another unacceptable final offer from Sony in response to the above Demand Letter, I filed a small claims lawsuit against Sony on September 22, 2009 in the Superior Court of California, County of San Diego, North County Regional Center. Here are the papers I filed:
Plaintiff's Claim and ORDER to Go to Small Claims Court plus Proof of Service.

My primary claim was that Sony breached the implied warranty of merchantability on my TV, because it contained a latent defect at the time of my purchase, and a later repair contained the same latent defect. To help support this claim, I personally served a subpoena for technical/engineering documents at the Sony Electronics headquarters in San Diego on September 24, 2009: Small Claims Subpoena and Declaration. Sony never provided the subpoenaed documents.

The trial was held on October 28, 2009. Parties are not allowed to send an attorney to small claims court in California, so Sony sent a technical specialist. Just prior to the trial, the Sony representative and I attempted mediation, but he was only authorized to offer the same things I had been offered previously, which I rejected and proceeded to trial.

The following file contains my intended oral testimony (as Exhibit A), as well as several more supporting exhibits (it is bookmarked for ease of navigation, if you download it): Linke v. Sony Exhibits. I did not end up reading the entire oral testimony. The trial was more of a discussion, although I tried to mention all of the most important points. Note that some of the information in the above document is in the form of talking points, so it will not necessarily make sense to everybody. In addition, I have redacted most of the personal emails to me for privacy reasons.
 
The Sony representative brought only two exhibits with him, a copy of my purchase receipt and a copy of the warranty card that came with the TV. Consistent with this, the only defense he raised was that my warranty had expired, and that Sony had offered to repair my TV free of charge. I pointed out that I had already had my TV repaired once after Sony issued a warranty extension on it, and that the replacement optical block failed with the same problem as the original. I also included evidence that other people with my model had multiple failures. Therefore, I argued that the TV could not be repaired to make it merchantable, as the defects had not been removed. I further pointed out that I had subpoenaed technical documents from Sony that had evidence that the optical block had been re-designed to remove the defects, but that Sony had not provided any documents to support that.
 
The "Commissioner of the Superior Court" in my case, Donald F. Armento, asked the Sony representative whether the blue discoloration problem was something that happened to these TVs, and whether it could be fixed. The Sony representative replied that the blue discoloration was a known problem (I think the warranty extension document I printed out from Sony's web site made it impossible for him to honestly answer any other way), and that he was not sure whether it would recur after another replacement. The Commissioner Armento then commented that he was glad that the Sony representative was being honest about the situation.
 
Commissioner Armento also asked each of us what we thought the expected life span should be for this model TV. I replied 15 years, and the Sony representative replied 7-10 years.
 
The whole trial lasted about 30 minutes, and, due to the complexity of the issues and the length of my exhibits, the case was taken "under advisement" (rather than ruling immediately. On October 30, 2009, Commissioner Armento produced this Judgment , which was subsequently entered on November 13, 2009. Please note that there are a few typographical and factual errors in the third paragraph of the Judgment, but none of them have any consequence on the decision. For example, my TV is actually a 55" (as opposed to 52"), the purchase price was $2,998.03 (as opposed to $2,889.03), and some of the dates are a bit off. In the case of the purchase price, the actual price of $2,998.03 was used to do the prorated calculation in the fifth paragraph, and the correct dates were used to calculate the actual "enjoyable viewing time."
 
I was awarded $2,158.56 (my original purchase price minus a prorated amount for "enjoyable viewing time" based on a 12.5-year estimated life span), plus $89 for a diagnostic fee, plus $60 for court costs ($50 to file the lawsuit plus $10 for the Clerk of the Court to serve the papers to Sony by registered mail). I believe that the figure of 12.5 years was arrived at by averaging my 15-year estimate with the upper bound of the Sony representative's estimate (10 years).
 
I received this cover letter and the following check from Sony on December 12, 2009 (click on the image for a larger version):
 
 

agn (California; 3/27/2009; KF-60WE610; $690 judgment)

"agn" v. Sony Electronics Inc. (Los Angeles, CA)

The first successful small claims case of which I am aware was conducted by an eCoustics member known as "agn". He purchased a 2003 3LCD model KF-60WE610 for approximately $3,100 that was delivered in 9/2004. Purple blotches started in 2007, and blue discolorations appeared in 12/2008. Sony refused to repair the TV or even provide the optical block for free, because the warranty extension expired in 6/2008 for this model.

 
"agn" filed a small claims lawsuit in Los Angeles, seeking ~$1,300 to pay for the parts and labor necessary for the repair (~$1,200+tax) plus court costs ($40). The trial was held on 3/27/2009, and because the case was in California, Sony was not allowed to send a lawyer--an engineer was sent instead. The Sony engineer apparently claimed in court that only a small number of their TVs fail with optical block problems.
 
Some have claimed that Sony formerly used plastic lenses in their optical blocks, which are more subject to degradation/warping than glass lenses, and that they switched to glass at some point. The Sony engineer apparently did not deny this at the trial, but stated that it was not relevant. I am unaware of any direct evidence that plastic lenses were replaced with glass lenses at any point by Sony, although this may be true.
 
The judge awarded "agn" half of the amount he was seeking for the repair ($650) plus $40 for his court costs. The judge apparently asked "agn" at the trial how long he thought the expected life of the TV was, and "agn" replied "at least 8 years." Although the judge's decision-making process is not 100% clear, it seems evident that he decided that the ~4 years "agn" used the TV before the blue discoloration appeared was about half the expected life of the TV, so he split the cost.
 
Probable factors that affected the size of the judgment
 
"agn" only requested damages to cover repair rather than the full original cost of the TV, because he was unaware at the time he filed his claim that repair with a non-defective part was not really possible. In addition, "agn" did not present any legal arguments (e.g., implied warranties or unfair business practices), so it was up to the judge to determine his standing. Further, "agn" used a very low figure for the expected lifespan of the TV (8 years), one that was likely influenced by Sony's own highly questionable claim of 7 years. Thus, a significantly higher judgment may have been possible in this case.
 
For "agn"s own description of the process, see the following sampling of posts by him on the eCoustics forum: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
 

Sita Narine (New York - New York City; 1/7/2010; KF-50WE610; $1,720 judgment)

Sita Narine vs. Sony (Civil Court of the City of New York Index Number S.C. 3333/09)
 
The plaintiff, Ms. Narine of Long Island, New York, purchased a 2003 3LCD model KF-50WE610 on 9/18/2004 at Sears for $2,909.04. Sony's warranty extension on this model expired on 6/30/2008 (about 3.75 years after purchase). Ms. Narine first noticed a blue haze on 1/12/2009 (about 4.33 years after purchase) and dead pixels also appeared. She contacted Sony but was unsatisfied by the offers Sony made, so she filed a lawsuit on 8/19/2009 in the Civil Court of New York, Small Claims/Commercial Claims Part with hearings held in the Chinatown part of Manhattan in night court sessions. A hearing was set up for 9/28/2009.
 
After the lawsuit was filed but before the initial hearing date, Sony made various additional offers by FedEx letters, including $1,100 off a $3,700 KDL-46XBR8 TV from the SonyStyle online store (final cost of $2,600). Citing a similar cost for that TV (without any discount) of $2,760 at a Sony-authorized Internet dealer, the plaintiff rejected that offer. Sony then offered $1,100 to cover repair, prompting Ms. Narine to suggest free repair with a four-year warranty on the optical block. Sony then offered free repair, but no extended warranty, so she opted to go ahead with the lawsuit.
 
On 9/28/2009, Ms. Narine traveled 60 miles into Manhattan for the hearing, but Sony had written a letter to the court (dated 9/21/2009) requesting an Adjournment due to a "scheduling conflict," so the Court adjourned the case until 11/11/2008. Note that in a different case in Massachusetts (Barbara Black vs. Sony Electronics), Sony sent a virtually identical letter requesting adjournment. These may or may not have both been legitimate requests for adjournments.

In any event, Ms. Narine returned for the 11/11/2008 hearing, and a legal representative named Ms. Hoffman was present on behalf of Sony. Due to a heavy court schedule, though, the parties were directed to enter either mediation or arbitration. Ms. Narine and Ms. Hoffman went through over two hours of mediation, which included Ms. Hoffman calling Sony Senior Paralegal Tracy Jeffries, the person who signed the judgment check in my case (Linke v. Sony). However, Ms. Jeffries said that the only offers Ms. Hoffman could make were the ones previously sent. Thus, mediation failed, and a new hearing date of 1/7/2010 was scheduled.
 
On 1/7/2010, Ms. Narine and Ms. Hoffman were again present. Similar to the last court date, due to a heavy schedule, the parties again were instructed to enter mediation or arbitration, or to return on yet another date to potentially get a judge. Ms. Narine agreed to go with arbitration, which would lead to a final result based on law, but it would be heard by an arbitrator rather than a judge, and the decision would not be subject to appeal.
 
Ms. Narine presented her case, including exhibits that were given to both the arbitrator, who merely thumbed through the packet, and Sony's Ms. Hoffman, who did not look at them. Ms. Narine focused her legal arguments on federal implied warranty of merchantability code and N.Y. Universal Commercial Code Law & N.Y. General Business Law 349. She argued that the appearance of the blue discolorations and dead pixels was inevitable (not a possibility) due to a defective part, and that the timing was dependent upon the amount of normal usage within the product's intended and primary purpose.
 
The arbitrator was very interested in the correspondence and verbal communications between Ms. Narine and Sony, and inquired of Ms. Narine why she did not accept any of Sony's offers.
 
Ms. Narine asked Ms. Hoffman whether she was aware that each and every model that contained an optical block had been issued an unannounced extended warranty on the Sony support web site, and that, as the extended warranties expire, they are removed from the web site, and that there is still a warranty on the web site on Ms. Narine's model for a warped lamp door issue. Ms. Hoffman replied that she did not understand the question.
 
Sony's representative, Ms. Hoffman, had no questions for the plaintiff, but made the following points:
  • The plaintiff had no right to speak about any Sony TV models other than her own, including the class-action lawsuits, which are for other models.
  • It has never been proven in court that Sony used defective parts.
  • Any information obtained from the Internet was not from a verifiable, official source recognized in New York State, and, thus is inadmissible as evidence.
  • Sony is a company with a reputation that precedes them, and they have tried to make all attempts "short of bending over backwards" to please the plaintiff, even though her TV was 7 months beyond the extended warranty.
  • Any judgment for more than Sony was already offering the plaintiff would set a bad precedent. In response to this point, Ms. Narine pointed out that a precedent had already been set with an award of $2,307.56 in the Linke vs. Sony Electronics case.
On 1/13/2010, Ms. Narine received this Notice of Judgment dated 1/7/2010, awarding her $1,700 for the TV plus her $20 filing fee. Ms. Narine later received the following check from Sony dated 1/14/2010 (click on the image for a larger version):



The judgment was clearly significantly higher than the offers Sony had made. My interpretation is that the plaintiff's TV failed after about 4.3 years of use, and she received about 60% of the original purchase price ($1,700 of $2,900). Perhaps the arbitrator gave her a prorated refund assuming an approximately 10 year expected life span. If the $2,900 price included sales tax, and the arbitrator only used the base price of the TV, then the judgment might have been made assuming an even longer expected life span (perhaps up to about 12 years). This is open to other interpretations, though, and more information may become available in the future.
 

Howard Meyer (Michigan; 1/20/2010; KDS-R60XBR1; $1,075 judgment)

Howard Meyer v. Sony Electronics (Michigan Small Claims Case No: 09T7481SC )
 
Mr. Meyer purchased a 2005 SXRD model KDS-R60XBR1 for over $5,000. In approximately November of 2008, he noticed a green tinge on the right side of the screen that slowly progressed until it covered the entire screen. Although a class-action lawsuit settlement required Sony to inform all 2005 SXRD customers of an optical block warranty extension good through June of 2009, Mr. Meyer did not receive any notification.
 
Mr. Meyer reported the issue to Sony in approximately October of 2009, but the extended warranty had expired by that time. Sony's offer was not acceptable to Mr. Meyer, so he filed a small claims lawsuit on Decmeber 16, 2009, and a hearing was scheduled for January 20, 2010.
 
Sony called Mr. Meyer a few times and offered to cover half of the repair cost or a KDL-52XBR9 for $550, which represented an additional $500 discount compared to their offer prior to his filing the lawsuit. Sony did not comment when Mr. Meyer asked whether the optical block had been redesigned to removed the defects, but a local repair company told him that a replacement would be the same optical block. So, Mr. Meyer rejected the offers and went through with the hearing on January 20, 2010.
 
Sony flew two people up from Florida, including Margaret "Peggy" French, Manager, National Service Support, who did all of the talking. The parties were first directed to attempt mediation in the hallway, but Sony only made the same offers as previously, which Mr. Meyer rejected. Ms. French then produced a 2-inch thick document, which she claimed was a federal court judgment that assured Sony of a win. She also told Mr. Meyer that he had been contacted about the class-action lawsuit by both email and regular mail. Mr. Meyer denied being notified.
 
Mediation having failed, the parties went to the court room where Mr. Meyer presented his side first. Mr. Meyer had a 3/4-inch thick binder with 12 sections: (1) Michigan Consumer Protection Act, (2) Bill of Sale and photo of the green discoloration on his TV screen, (3) HDTV long-term investment article, (4) average TV lifespan articles, (5) repair costs, (6) current value of his TV from Craigslist, (7) Steve Linke's web site, (8) typical customer complaints (35 printed pages and 141 pages on a CD), (9)Sony warranty extension alerts from Steve Linke's web site, (10) information from customers with two failures (Barb Black and Steve Linke), (11) NBC news coverage article, and (12) a copy of the settled class action lawsuit.

Judge Michael J. Gerou complimented Mr. Meyer twice on his organization. Mr. Meyer quoted repair costs of $1,000- $1,500, and the judge asked whether that would get the TV back to new condition. Ms. French told the judge that Mr. Meyer elected not to opt out of the class action case.
 
The judge awarded Mr. Meyer $1,000 plus $75 in court costs. Obviously, this was a result of the judge's impression that the TV could be put back into its original working condition for that amount. Mr. Meyer later received the following check from Sony (click on the image for a larger version):
 
This was another great small claims win. My only further suggestion would have been to make it clear that a "repair" is insufficient relief, because the replacement optical blocks have the same defects and will fail just like the originals. That may coax the judge to provide a prorated refund of the original purchase price based on trouble-free usage. That would not necessarily have worked in this case, and, in other cases, perhaps the repair cost would result in a larger judgment. However, it is something to keep in mind.
 
I assume the "federal court judgment" document was something from a New York federal judge dismissing an early Complaint from one of the class-action lawsuits. I think the judge rejected some of the "implied warranty" arguments made in that Complaint. I am not an attorney, but I think the plaintiff's attorneys didn't make the best case in that early Complaint. I remember the judge complaining that there were very few specifics/details. I believe a revised Complaint was submitted, and the case is now pending again. In any event, that class-action dismissal clearly does not ensure any sort of Sony victory in small claims.


Joel Valmonte (California; 2/23/2010; $1,500 settlement)

Mr. Valmonte purchased a KDF-60WF655 in 5/2005 for ~$3,850 (including tax, delivery, and extended warranty). Around 6/2009, the TV began exhibiting blue discolorations (both haze and star pattern). Mr. Valmonte contacted Sony in 11/2009, but the customer service representative would not confirm that there were any known issues with the model, and that there was nothing Sony could do, because it was out of warranty. After emailing tony@sony and posting on the Facebook I Have A Defective Sony TV wall, Sony made offers for 50% off the repair (~$900) or small discounts off direct-view LCD TVs. The offers were refused. Mr. Valmonte filed a small claims lawsuit seeking ~$3,000 based on the implied warranty of merchantability with a trial date of 2/23/2010.

California does not allow attorneys, so Sony was represented by someone from their Quality Assurance department. During a voluntary pre-trial mediation session, the Sony representative reviewed Mr. Valmonte's evidence and offered him a $1,000 cash settlement. Mr. Valmonte counter-offered $1,500, and the Sony representative accepted. The parties then returned to the court room to fill out a form detailing the amount of the settlement, which was later announced by the judge. Mr. Valmonte later received the following check from Sony (click on the image for a larger version):



WS (New Jersey; 3/12/2010; KDF-60XS955; $0 judgment)

WS from New Jersey (the plaintiff wishes to be anonymous) purchased a KDF-60XS955 on 2/5/2005 for $3,650 with a four-year extended warranty ($400 extra). Beginning in 3/2009, blue discolorations started appearing on the TV. This was about a month after the expiration of the purchased extended warranty and about three months after the expiration of Sony's own extended optical block coverage. By 12/2009, the blue discolorations had spread, and the TV also developed a large yellow oval discoloration in the center. Sony's offers of ~$320 discounts off 40" to 52" direct-view LCD TVs at that time were refused.

WS filed a small claims lawsuit seeking approximately $2,500. Prior to the trial, Sony made a cash settlement offer for $1,500, but WS refused and chose to go to trial. Sony was represented at the trial by an attorney, and WS lost the case and was awarded nothing. New Jersey allows attorneys in court and has strict procedural rules. For example, the New Jersey Small Claims FAQ states: "If you are the plaintiff, you must prove your case. Arrange to have any witnesses and records you need to prove your case at the trial. A written statement, even if under oath, is not admissible in court. Only actual testimony in court of what the witness(es) heard or saw will be allowed. Prepare your questions in advance." Consistent with this, Sony's attorney and the judge apparently challenged the admissibility of virtually all of the documentation WS presented.


JL (Iowa; 4/9/2010; KDF-42WE655; $0 judgment)

JL from Iowa purchased a KDF-42WE655 in 2004. A little over five years later, the TV developed blue discolorations, and JL reported the problem to Sony. Sony offered small discounts off direct-view LCD TVs, which were refused. JL filed a small claims lawsuit. Sony was represented at the trial by an attorney. The attorney made a motion to dismiss the case based on the statute of limitations, and the judge granted the dismissal without hearing any testimony, so JL lost the case. Iowa has a statute of limitations of five years on implied warranties, and JL did not file the lawsuit within that five-year period.


Barb Black (Massachusetts; 5/4/2009; KDF-60XS955; $1,690 judgment)

Barbara Black vs. SEL Inc (Case No. 200967SC001307)

Mrs. Black purchased a KDF-60XS955 in 11/2004 for ~$3,730 plus a four-year service contract for an additional ~$460. In the Spring of 2007, blue discolorations appeared on the TV, and Sony replaced the optical block under their unadvertised optical block coverage program. In 10/2009, the replacement optical block began exhibiting blue discolorations. Details of the case can be found in Mrs. Black's demand letter sent to Sony.

Unsatisfied with Sony settlement offers, Mrs. Black filed a small claims lawsuit on 11/24/2009. On 1/13/2010, she received an unsigned letter on Sony letterhead (San Diego) requesting an "adjournment" due to a "scheduling conflict". The Clerk Magistrate granted Sony a continuance until 4/6/2010. That date was not acceptable to Mrs. Black who requested, and was granted, her own continuance to 5/4/2010.
 
In March, Mrs. Black received a letter from a local Massachusetts attorney hired by Sony, which stated: "Sony has reviewed this matter and has concluded that your claims against it are meritless and, accordingly, that Sony is not liable to you for any damages." The letter went on to cite Massachusetts case law that allegedly supported Sony's case. Sony's attorney also argued in the letter that, while the appearance of the discolorations may not precisely meet the original expectations of their customers, the TVs still provide a minimum level of quality that meets Sony's legal obligations. The letter concluded by urging Mrs. Black to accept one of Sony's settlement offers for a discounted TV, but she did not accept any.

Before the 5/4/2010 hearing in front of a Clerk Magistrate, Sony's attorney announced that he had been authorized to offer a cash settlement of $1000. Mrs. Black refused. Mrs. Black was allowed to present her case in considerable detail, using Massachusetts consumer law (the Uniform Commercial Code) for her argument that the television was inherently defective at the time of purchase and repair, and was, therefore, not merchantable. She also cited the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Law, Chapter 93A. Mrs. Black also prominently displayed photographs of her TV screen (now with severe blue discolorations) throughout her testimony.

Mrs. Black presented Sony's marketing literature, which promised exceptional longevity and that it might be "the last set you'll ever own" due to the replaceable lamp. She also presented Steve Linke's optical block warranty extension table, which documents the extended warranties and class action suits for all of Sony's liquid crystal rear-projection TVs. In addition, she presented Sony optical block patents, described the large number of Internet complaints, and presented letters received from many other owners with similar stories.
 
When Mrs. Black completed her testimony, Sony's attorney stated that there were millions of these sets sold, so her problems--and the few 1000's of internet complaints--represented a statistically insignificant number. He also stated that Sony "knew" there had been problems with these sets, but that they were "old technology" and really shouldn't have been expected to last. He went on to state that the "new" models are far more reliable. To that, the Clerk Magistrate responded: "Why is that her fault?"
 
Sony's attorney then proceeded to present the Massachusetts case law that he had cited in his March letter. Mrs. Black had looked up all of the cases at the local law library, so she was well-prepared to counter his arguments. She pointed out how the cases actually supported her position more than Sony's. She had also researched previous small claims complaints concerning defective Sony TVs in Massachusetts and was able to use that information to contradict Sony's attorney's claims that other similar cases had already gone in Sony's favor. The attorney also made a comment that, if the Clerk Magistrate were to rule in favor of Mrs Black, he should do so assuming only a seven-year lifespan of the TV based on the California requirement for spare part availability.

The Clerk Magistrate took the case under advisement. Mrs. black offered the Clerk Magistrate a 3" thick binder containing all of her evidence, but the only thing he wanted was a copy of the 2007 repair order for the replacement optical block. A ruling in favor of Mrs. Black was entered by the Clerk Magistrate on 5/10/2010. She was awarded $1,650 plus court costs of $40. The maximum award in Massachusetts Small Claims Court is $2,000. There was no explanation of the rationale for his decision, but it is likely that it was based on the implied warranty of merchantability and was aided by the fact that Mrs. Black experienced two optical block failures.

Mrs. Black later received the following check from Sony (click on the image for a larger version):




KR (Santa Clara County, California; 7/8/2010; KDF-55WF655; $1,440 judgment)

The plaintiff purchased a KDF-55WF655 on 6/29/2005 for $2,098. In early 2010, she noticed a blue tinge on the image. Sony customer support did not suggest repair, but rather made offers for discounts off replacement TVs. The plaintiff refused the offer and sent a demand letter to Sony. No response was received from Sony, so the plaintiff filed a small claims lawsuit on 6/9/2010.

The trial occurred on 7/8/2010. Sony sent a technical representative who brought as exhibits a list of the discount offers they had made, plus the original warranty card for the TV. The plaintiff brought a 1" binder of exhibits. After about 30 minutes of testimony, the judge said that he would take the case under advisement. On 7/10/2010, the judge rendered a judgment of $1,440 in favor of the plaintiff ($1,380 for the TV plus $60 in court costs).


MB (Contra Costa County, California; 8/9/2010; KDS-60A2000; $2,835 judgment)

The plaintiff ("MB") purchased a KDS-60A2000 in August 2006 for $3,780 (including sales tax and recycling fee). In January 2010, he noticed green discoloration on the screen. In April 2010, he requested warranty service under Sony’s optical block extended warranty program. The optical block was replaced twice with refurbished parts that also exhibited varying degrees of green and red discoloration.

In June 2010, MB contacted Sarah Kepler of the Sony Listens team through her Facebook page. Ms. Kepler made a free replacement offer of a refurbished KDL-60EX500 that was not acceptable to him, so he sent a demand letter to Sony and filed suit in small claims court on June 22, 2010. On June 28, 2010, he received a delivery notice that a refurbished KDL-60EX500 had been shipped to him without his knowledge or consent. The shipment was declined and returned to Sony. On July 19, 2010, MB received a $1,000 settlement offer over the phone from a clerk in Sony’s legal department. He also declined that offer.

The case was heard on August 6, 2010 in the Contra Costa County small claims court in Concord, California. The parties declined pre-trial mediation, and the trial lasted 55 minutes. Sony was represented by a Senior National Trainer. The Sony representative brought with him, and submitted to the judge, the plaintiff’s purchase receipt, a copy of the original express warranty card that came with the TV, the plaintiff's demand letter, copies of Facebook posts, and numerous schematics and diagrams, one of which appeared to be the KDS-60A2000 service manual. The Sony representative made the following arguments, among others:

  • Sony is only bound by the warranty to cover the optical block for two years, and they bent over backwards to accommodate the plaintiff by replacing his optical block twice when they were not obligated to do so.
  • The SXRD technology in the plaintiff's TV is a quality proven technology that has exhibited few, if any, problems. This was later recanted during questioning from the judge when the Sony representative acknowledged that SXRD projection TVs were no longer made by Sony, and that they had replaced them with superior direct-view LCD technology.
  • Sony is a good company and, to maintain the goodwill of the plaintiff, Sony offered a replacement set of superior capability and value.
  • The "useful life" of Sony's TVs is only 7 years--not 15 or more years.

Apparently, the Sony representative suddenly disappeared during the judge's questioning and was not present for the last few minutes of the proceedings.

A judgment was entered for the plaintiff on August 9, 2010 in the amount of $2,835 ($2,730 for the TV plus $105 in court costs). More details of the case can be found in a Case Summary and Case Discussion prepared by the plaintiff. He received the following check from Sony (click on the image for a larger version):



FT (Georgia; 2/28/2012; $0)

The plaintiff ("FT") owned a KDF-42WE655 that suffered an optical block failure, and he paid approximately $1,340 to have it replaced. He alleges that he later submitted a warranty extension reimbursement form to Sony, but that Sony did not reimburse him. Subsequent to the optical block failure, the TV also suffered the lamp overheating issue (melted areas around lamp, including the lamp door). After filing the lawsuit, Sony made the plaintiff a settlement offer to reimburse him in cash for the replacement of his defective optical block plus court costs, and to provide him with a replacement lamp door. However, plaintiff refused the offer, claiming that the heat damage and associated defect would not be adequately addressed by simply replacing the lamp door.

Sony had removed the notice of the optical block warranty extension on the WE models from their web site at the time of the small claims trial, and the plaintiff alleges that the Sony representative at the trial denied that there ever was a warranty extension. The judge ruled in Sony's favor. The plaintiff appealed the ruling. At the appeal trial, the judge apparently ruled that a statute of limitations barred the lawsuit, and that the documentation that the plaintiff presented of the existence of Sony's warranty extension was not properly authenticated.



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