Assault and “battery”: Midtown condo board claims exploding laptop caused major damage

The Link and a ThinkPad gone awry
The Link and a ThinkPad gone awry

UPDATED, 2:35 p.m., June 26: New York City condominiums are often plagued by boiler breakdowns and raging floods, but a new lawsuit at the Link in Midtown West alleges that the building overheated from an unexpected source.

The condo board at 310 West 52nd Street claims that a lithium ion battery from a ThinkPad laptop computer exploded and sparked a fire in July 2010, causing $590,000 in damage to the building, according to a suit filed Thursday in New York State Supreme Court.

The suit claims that IBM and a Lenovo subsidiary designed the defective battery, and failed to adequately warn consumers of the problem.

Aarthi Belani, who owns an apartment at the 215-unit tower, developed by El-Ad, had a ThinkPad laptop that exploded inside her apartment and caused damage to the unit and surrounding area, according to the suit. Belani, an attorney and employee of Credit Suisse, is not a party to the suit and declined to comment.

A spokesperson for the Fire Department of New York confirmed that it responded to a report of smoke on the 21st-floor apartment in the evening of the day in question and found a fire in the kitchen. No injuries were reported.

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Lenovo and IBM issued a voluntary recall of 168,500 batteries in 2006 with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, citing a battery that overheated and damaged a notebook computer while a passenger was boarding an airplane. The recall was extended in 2007. However, it was not immediately clear whether the batteries in this case were covered under that recall or sold later.

A spokesman for Lenovo declined to comment. An IBM spokesman did not return calls.

Andrew Weltchek, a Manhattan real estate attorney who is not involved with the case, said the case presented somewhat unusual liability claims. Though he surprised by the alleged level of damage caused by the explosion, he noted that condo boards have sued over defective appliances that caused damage in the past.

“It seems like an awful lot of damage for a battery,” he told The Real Deal. “You would think it had to have done some structural damage to the building.”