Can Clerks/Cashiers Make a Corporation Liable?

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A friend had a mid-range price laptop by a major manufacturer and
needed a replacement A/C adapter.  Friend went to major computer-theme
national retailer (the store was in Virginia, where the retailer's
headquarters is also located) and asked for help from a clerk.  Friend
asked for help because a visit to Radio Shack, to a knowledgeable
middle aged salesman, turned up a warning that universal A/C adapters
often do not work.  (Radio Shack employee attempted to find a laptop
"tip" that would fit the D/C jack; and even though a tip was found, it
did not charge the unit.)

At this other, larger, computer-intensive retailer, a clerk used an
"open-box" universal charger to show that the charger would work with
the laptop.  Clerk demonstrated which tip to use, and the sale was

A month and a half later, the laptop began to have freeze.
Diagnostics all came up normal, but in under two months, the laptop
was dead.

The computer technician who did the diagnostics asked, first, if the
universal A/C adapter was "set" to the right voltage.  Technician said
Hand's down, the problem is the universal adapter, the most common
cause of laptop failure.  My friend did not know the answer to his
question, because the retail clerk never explained that the "brick"
part of the adapter has a variety of voltages to set the charger to.
In this case, however, the brick *was* set to the correct voltage:
14-17 Volts.

This weekend, friend was starting to part-out the disassembled laptop
to sell perfectly usable parts.  When disassembling the universal
adapter, the discovery was made that the little baggy the actual D/C
tip should have come from--labeled "14--17 Volts" was vacuum-sealed.
Another little baggy, containing other tips, labeled "17--21 Volts"
was the one the clerk at the major retailer instructed friend to use.

The fact that the baggy with the correct voltage tips is vacuum sealed
led friend to ask whether corporation should be liable for the failure
of the laptop ($1200. in 2004).  Brunch with a lawyer friend who
refuses to give legal advice elicited a terse nod.  Hence, this

The manager of the particular store where the adapter was bought
offered the non-response: "We sell an awful lot of K_______________
brand of A/C adapters.  They're used for Hewlett Packards, Toshibas,
Lenovos, all kind of laptops.  I can't be held responsible for the
actions of a clerk who no longer works here.  Call the manufacturer of
the adapter."

But the manufacturer didn't demonstrate the application of a wrong
voltage tip.  So who, if anyone, can be "implicated" in the failure of
a laptop that had not been malfunctioning before the universal adapter
was purchased?

Re: Can Clerks/Cashiers Make a Corporation Liable?

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Why didn't he just buy a proper manufacturer's transformer? they are NOT

Re: Can Clerks/Cashiers Make a Corporation Liable?

probably not unless the part was defective and cause the problem.
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Re: Can Clerks/Cashiers Make a Corporation Liable? wrote:
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I had a similar problem with a Toshiba 445CDT back in 2000 and Circuit
City, the store manager refused to accept liability so, I waited on hold
to their corporate office for 3 hours until I got someone there and
started a complaint about an unhelpful store manager that denied my
service.  They would not replace the laptop but I got a new adapter and
a new battery (which was what ended up having been ruined in the first
place) for my laptop, it took a long time though.  Lots of phone calls
with incredibly huge times on hold.

Re: Can Clerks/Cashiers Make a Corporation Liable?

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Well, in this case the whole laptop was fried.  It required 16 volts
and apparently was getting more (or else they wouldn't have had two
little "baggies").  I told friend who is now using a P3 as big as
something from Get Smart that if the store does not have a disclaimer
somewhere in the store to the effect that the buyer of tech equipment
asks salespeople for help at their own risk, a small claims suit is in

This wasn't a matter of said friend crossing the shopping center and
asking a clerk at Victoria's Secret how a universal A/C adapter
works.  It was a matter of going into a store that specializes in
technological equipment--to the point of selling tech support
services.  It is no more unreasonable for a customer to put faith in
what a salesperson at such a store says/demonstrates about a piece of
technology than it is unreasonable for a buyer of a g-string at
Victoria Secret to put faith in a lingerie clerk's claim that a size
12 will be too loose on a size 6 butt.

Re: Can Clerks/Cashiers Make a Corporation Liable?

First, there is some question about whether the adapter was actually set
to the wrong voltage.  In one paragraph, you say that the brick was set
to the correct voltage, while in the next paragraph you say that the
wrong tip was used.  Is there a switch on the adapter to set voltage?
Or does the tip used set the voltage (I have a Targus adapter that does
the latter, for example).

If the voltage is set by a switch on the brick, then using the wrong tip
could *at most* be responsible for abnormal wear or poor contact at the
DC input jack - not for any damage to the laptop's circuitry.

Second, has anyone actually diagnosed the laptop failure as being caused
by incorrect voltage?  How do they know?  Can they establish this in
court?  Maybe the laptop just failed without any help from the adapter.

In any case, in my opinion the fault here is almost all your friend's.
He bought a "universal" adapter, which could be configured to work with
many laptops, yet he clearly didn't read the manual himself, nor do
anything else to ensure the adapter was properly configured for his
laptop.  That's his responsibility if he buys an off-brand device.

If he was too inexperienced to read and understand the manual,
he could have bought the "official" power supply from the manufacturer
(and thus leave no chance of screwing up), or he could have paid a
computer service person to locate and set up a suitable power supply.
Since you pay computer service people for their (supposedly) expert
advice, they should accept responsibility if their advice causes damage.

But, instead, he took the advice of a store clerk and didn't check it.
Clerks are (at most) skilled at selling you things, not providing
technical advice - and you didn't pay him anything for technical advice.
Therefore I don't think the store has any liability.

The friend can still complain, or sue the store if they want.  But
frankly I think they deserve to lose any suit.


Re: Can Clerks/Cashiers Make a Corporation Liable?

Your only practical recourse would be to sue the manufacturer in small
claims court.  You have a reasonable case, but winning would not be certain. wrote:
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Re: Can Clerks/Cashiers Make a Corporation Liable?

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Thank you.  Having spoken last night with a representative of the
adapter manufacturer, my friend discovered that the manual clearly
warns about using the wrong voltage adapter.  The slow death of the
laptop--as opposed to a rapid meltdown--may have been caused by the
combination of a correct voltage generated by the brick, coupled with
the incorrect voltage of the tip.

Friend has already been in contact with magistrate's court in Virginia
Beach.  I wish I had titled this thread differently to warn others,
because holy cow, friend is taking "death" of laptop badly...all
because a "tech" expert demonstrated the "correct" way to burn out a
$1200. machine all without reading the manual himself.

But it gets better.  When *I* went to a local major, red-colored,
computer retailer, the "tech manager" of the store says, "Yeah, so
what?  We have an open box unit for the same reasons as the folks in


Re: Can Clerks/Cashiers Make a Corporation Liable? writes:

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Your story doesn't make sense.  The tip, by itself, might set the
voltage produced by the adapter, but it does not change the voltage
after production.  You seem to believe that the adapter produces one
voltage (which was set correctly) but the tip changed it to some other
voltage (which was wrong for the laptop).  It just doesn't work this

There are basically two possibilities here:

1. The voltage is set by a switch on the power supply brick.  The tip
doesn't have any effect on the voltage; it just needs to have the right
size and shape and polarity to fit the laptop.  If the tip is marked
with a voltage at all, it's because the "normal" size of tip changes
with voltage.  But the tip does not set the voltage.

2. The tip *also* encodes the correct voltage, and the adapter does not
have a voltage switch.  In this case, choosing the wrong tip will likely
give the wrong voltage.

Now, does the adapter brick have a voltage switch or not?  If it does,
was is set correctly?  If so, your laptop should have been getting the
right voltage regardless of the tip.  The tip, if it works at all,
likely has nothing to do with the laptop damage.

On the other hand, if the tip *does* set the voltage, why do you keep
saying the brick was set correctly?

And what is the make and model of the power supply anyway?

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Yes.  Always read the manuals.  You're responsible for knowing and
following what's in them, unless you pay someone else to take
responsibility for you.  Sales people are not tech experts - they don't
have time to read the manuals for everything they sell.


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