Dutch user group sues Dell over policies

A Dutch computer user group sued Dell Inc. last week, alleging parts of the sales terms and conditions that the world’s largest PC maker uses violate Dutch consumer protection law.

On behalf of its more than 200,000 members, the Hobby Computer Club (HCC) of Houten, Netherlands, is asking a Dutch court to bar Dell from continuing to use the terms and conditions or face a fine of 5,000 euros (US$5,825) per day with a maximum of 5 million euros, according to a copy of the legal documents published on the HCC Web site.

The user group also asked the court to order Dell to place an ad in several major Dutch newspapers acknowledging that its terms and conditions had violated Dutch law. If such an ad isn’t placed within two days after the court’s decision, Dell should be fined 2,500 euros a day with a maximum of 2.5 million euros, the HCC requested.

Several HCC members had been rebuffed by Dell after their systems broke down or never worked at all, the HCC said in a statement. Dell repeatedly referred customers to its terms and conditions and said they had no rights, according to the HCC.

The HCC was forced to go to court because the group got no answer from Dell when at various times it approached the vendor to discuss the terms and conditions, the group said.

The complaint details numerous examples of alleged violation of Dutch law. Many deal with articles in the terms and conditions in which Dell limits the warranty on products or limits its liability.

For example, Dell’s terms and conditions provide a broad list of circumstances Dell sees as beyond its control and then stipulate that the consumer has no right to damages if Dell has to cancel an order due to any of those circumstances, which include strikes, currency fluctuations and transport, supplier or production issues.

Dutch buyers have a right to compensation, according to the HCC complaint.

Also, Dell limits the warranty on its products to 12 months after delivery and 90 days after installation for spare parts. This violates Dutch law if Dell means to exclude itself from any responsibility after those periods expire, the HCC claims.

Other parts of the terms and conditions that the HCC takes issue with include a rule in which Dell states that customers are responsible for all costs of communicating with the vendor. If a Dell product is defective, then Dell is obliged to pay for returning the product as well as for calls to the vendor, according to the HCC.

Representatives in the U.S. for Dell, which is based in Round Rock, Texas, could not immediately comment on the case. However, the IDG publication WebWereld, in the Netherlands, reported that Dell representatives in Europe said the company is taking the HCC’s charges seriously and would like to start a dialog with the organization. Dell also said it regularly examines its terms and conditions for compliance with Dutch law, according to WebWereld.