My friend accidentally fried my Macbook. What is her responsibility?
March 9, 2014 3:05 PM   Subscribe

I'm in grad school. My friend/classmate accidentally knocked over her water bottle on Wednesday and drenched my MacBook Air (which was on the classroom table about three feet away), killing at least the motherboard (per the repair shop where I took it) and possibly other things as well. It will cost at least $520 to repair; I'm out of AppleCare coverage because I got my computer a bit over a year ago. I have two questions.

The two questions:

1) Is she financially responsible for any of this? On the one hand, we're both broke grad students (she's on fellowship, I'm working two jobs to afford rent) and these things just happen. On the other hand, it's at least $520 I'm out because she didn't secure her water bottle. She feels terrible but we haven't talked about $$ at all yet, and I'm not sure what's fair to ask (or how to ask).

2) I loved the Macbook Air but was always running up against the storage limit on the computer. Having gotten the computer before I started grad school, I thought I'd want the Air because it was light. Now, however, I usually just bring a Chromebook to class precisely because I was paranoid about my Air being damaged/stolen and wanted something lightweight (I had the Air in class that day because I needed to use VPN for work). With the repair costs already being over $500, I'm considering getting a refurbished MacBook Pro instead and shelling out for the extra $700 (which I can narrowly afford by dipping into my savings). MacBooks are of course not the only computer available, but it's the OS I've been using for the past 8 years and I've had excellent experiences with Apple products aside from the occasional act of god (which I can't say about other non-Apple laptops I've used for work during the same time period). Is getting a MacBook Pro instead of repairing my Air a good idea, and if I end up getting a MacBook Pro instead does it affect any responsibility my friend has to chip in?

I've been trying to think this through, but we're rolling into midterms and my computer's fried so I'm a little stressed. I want to be fair. For the most part, data loss is not a big concern for me: I back most things up using Dropbox.
posted by c'mon sea legs to Human Relations (84 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I think if you're in a position to just go buy a new laptop, or to fall back on another laptop you already have, it's not really fair to expect your classmate to pony up for something that, as you say, was a freak accident.

It would be one thing if you basically couldn't go forward with your work, the Air was your lifeline, and you had zero other options for a computer without her helping to replace the damaged property.

But from your description it sounds like the situation is more that you brought a shiny toy to school and are sad that something bad happened to it. As a genuinely broke person*, I would be pissed off if I were being asked to help you buy a better computer to replace what wasn't even your only laptop.

*You mention things like "dipping into your savings" to make up the $700 difference for a macbook pro. Which implies that you can fully afford to just go buy a new computer and aren't actually that broke. Apologies if it isn't actually that simple, or if the water spiller is a millionaire or something.
posted by Sara C. at 3:10 PM on March 9, 2014 [12 favorites]

I'm interested in hearing what other people think, but my first reaction is that you wouldn't be out of line to ask her to pay half of what it'd cost you to fix the computer she ruined. Some of the fault is hers after all.
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:11 PM on March 9, 2014 [17 favorites]

So, let's say you ask her to pay, and she doesn't. What would be your next step. Sue her? Drop her as a friend? .....there is no good next step here.

Do whatever you want to do in terms of repair/replace. If she's a good person she'll help if she can...if she doesn't, she doesn't.

Personally, I wouldn't ask, there really isn't any point...
posted by HuronBob at 3:13 PM on March 9, 2014 [9 favorites]

Response by poster: FWIW, I work two jobs (25 hours/week, or about 2.5 times what is recommended for most people in my program on average) on top of going to grad school full-time in order to survive in our expensive area and not dip into my savings. This is really really really not a cavalier thing for me.
posted by c'mon sea legs at 3:13 PM on March 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: (And the Chromebook costs $200 and was a major gift from my parents for combined birthday/Xmas.)
posted by c'mon sea legs at 3:15 PM on March 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

If a complete stranger had accidentally knocked over their water onto your computer, would you be chasing them for money? Or would you, as is likely, vaguely curse the universe and move on? If so, why is the fact that this person is your friend make it acceptable to demand money from them for what was a complete accident?

If I accidentally broke a friend's stuff I would probably volunteer to help pay to replace it; but if they approached me and asked for money when I hadn't offered I would be incredibly offended. It would imply to me that they felt that the action was in some way deliberate. Perhaps you are a skilled negotiator and would be able to get around this; but honestly, I would only ask for money if I valued the cash more than I valued the friendship, because I can see this as a friendship ending issue.

If she offers to help financially, then that's great, but don't ask her to cover the costs of an upgrade. Just play that through in your own head from the receiving end - you broke my stuff, and I don't just want you to pay for the repair, but to get something better. She has absolutely no responsibility if you choose to get a better computer.
posted by Vortisaur at 3:22 PM on March 9, 2014 [9 favorites]

She broke your stuff and she should pay to fix it. If I had done this I would feel responsible for writing you a check for $520.
posted by bq at 3:24 PM on March 9, 2014 [82 favorites]

I will leave others to debate Question 1.

On Question 2, you can now get MacBook Airs with larger internal storage capacities. I would price out a refurbished MB Air with enough SD to make you happy as a first step.
posted by alms at 3:26 PM on March 9, 2014

Same question, previously.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:27 PM on March 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

Sadly, I think if you took the risk of putting it on the table where people had water bottles, you're kind of stuck with it. People spill drinks all the time; she didn't do anything dumb or reckless.
posted by BibiRose at 3:27 PM on March 9, 2014 [12 favorites]

If you had lent her the computer and she broke it, that would be one thing, but it sounds like that was not the case? She didn't have any responsibility for caring for the computer or ensuring that it didn't get damaged beyond common courtesy.

I will tell you that I was in a similar situation (although the incident occurred in my own house) and I decided not to ask for any recompense. It seemed like it was my responsibility, and not my friend's, to care for my possessions and ensure that they did not get damaged.
posted by muddgirl at 3:28 PM on March 9, 2014 [5 favorites]

She broke your expensive equipment. I don’t really understand the debate about this. She should pay for it, if she doesn’t you know what kind of person she is.
posted by bongo_x at 3:29 PM on March 9, 2014 [29 favorites]

If I spilled the water I would immediately offer to pay for all or at least half. Personally I wouldn't ask, but I think it's reasonable to ask. You may want to go ahead and pay for repairs on your own. This kind of thing can be awkward and if she doesn't have the money anyway you can't squeeze a turnip.
posted by Fairchild at 3:29 PM on March 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

if they approached me and asked for money when I hadn't offered I would be incredibly offended. It would imply to me that they felt that the action was in some way deliberate.

This makes no sense to me. If you're driving and accidentally hit something, you are fully responsible for the damage you do. You don't get a pass because it was accidental.

That said, jamaro's freak accident argument does make sense to me.
posted by jon1270 at 3:30 PM on March 9, 2014 [6 favorites]

Flipping the scenario around: If you spilled water on a friend's/classmate's laptop and ruined it, what would you do?

If I spilled on someone's laptop in the scenario you described, I would offer to pay in full, even if it meant paying you a little bit every week, were I a broke-ass student.

Having a laptop in class is necessary; having a bottle of water in class is not. That I chose to bring water (optional), and spilled it on your (mandatory) laptop, puts me squarely in the negligent role.

But she may have a different sense of what is fair. So, this is probably something best hashed out calmly between you two, with the shared goal of finding a compromise that you both can live with. This would probably mean some sort of split on the cost -- hopefully she will step up to at least 50% reimbursement.
posted by nacho fries at 3:31 PM on March 9, 2014 [8 favorites]

Of course it is not unfair that you ask her to pay for the damage. Yes, it was an accident and it is unfortunate for her, but she was the distinct and clear cause of ruining your computer. The fact that she herself has not brought up the fact that she owes you clearly (aside from saying "sorry"), and therefore putting even more stress and burden on you is crazy. She should pay whatever the repair cost is to get your computer to how it was before the accident, and if you choose to put that money towards an upgrade by paying more for a computer yourself, then that money should go towards your new computer, that is, of course, your choice. Buying a new computer would not absolve her of her responsibility.
posted by Blitz at 3:32 PM on March 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

Do you have any expectation that your acquaintance will be able to pay you $520?

Has she actually offered to help pay for repairs or replacement?

Can you get by with the Chromebook?

Seems like trying to squeeze blood from a stone, if you ask me. It also seems like an accident, and kind of unfair to expect a fellow starving student to shell out for luxury goods.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:38 PM on March 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

Also, this wasn't a party environment, where an "Oops, my bad, party foul!" spill is a hazard one can reasonably anticipate happening. In a professional environment -- which includes graduate school -- a laptop is a tool of the trade, and the people in that environment have an extra duty of care to protect each other's professional equipment.
posted by nacho fries at 3:38 PM on March 9, 2014 [15 favorites]

You would win if you took her to small claims court.
posted by BabeTheBlueOX at 3:41 PM on March 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

I would tell her I needed to pay 520 bucks for the repair and ask her what she thinks is fair in this situation, and then go by what she says. If I were in her shoes, I'd definitely offer to pay.
posted by SecondSock at 3:41 PM on March 9, 2014 [14 favorites]

As a teenager I once lightly dented a car in a parking lot and I had to pay $1800 to cover the very expensive repair and paint job (he had some kind of ultra expensive coatings or something like that), and I paid in full and I cursed the universe. I really wanted the owner to offer to cover part of the costs, and he said he felt terrible about how expensive it was, but he still took my money.

I feel like if you take a very expensive item out in public where it could be easily damaged, so that random acts of fate could create a devastating repair bill for someone unlucky, then it would be nice (though you are not obligated) if you took on some of the responsibility of the repair. So, you could tell your friend that the repair cost is $520; you would be grateful if she could contribute to the cost of the repair; but you yourself will cover a large part of the costs (purposefully vague here), and she should chip in what she can reasonably afford without hardship.
posted by PercussivePaul at 3:44 PM on March 9, 2014 [11 favorites]

Do you have renters insurance? You may be able to make a claim against as many policies cover accidental damage of your belongings that occur outside the home.
posted by quince at 3:49 PM on March 9, 2014 [14 favorites]

She was 3 feet away? That is really pretty close. She should have been more careful, kept the bottle on the floor, not near the table, and kept it capped. I would be offering to at least pay half if I were her.

I also agree with this: Also, this wasn't a party environment, where an "Oops, my bad, party foul!" spill is a hazard one can reasonably anticipate happening. In a professional environment -- which includes graduate school -- a laptop is a tool of the trade, and the people in that environment have an extra duty of care to each other's professional equipment.

What you do if she does not offer you some money on her own is another question. I would at least let her know that the cost to repair it will be expensive and what that will be, i.e. this: So, you could tell your friend that the repair cost is $520; you would be grateful if she could contribute to the cost of the repair; but you yourself will cover a large part of the costs (purposefully vague here), and she should chip in what she can reasonably afford without hardship.
posted by gudrun at 3:49 PM on March 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

If I spilled water on my friend's laptop, I would offer to fix it, because I would feel responsible and I have the means to pay for repairs without destroying my finances. (If I didn't have the means, I would offer to to pay it off over time.)

If a friend spilled water on my laptop, I would only ask them to pay for the repair if I already wanted out of that friendship. If she hasn't offered, and you bring it up, it's going to go poorly.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 3:50 PM on March 9, 2014 [9 favorites]

They broke it, they should pay 100% for it to be fixed. I think income and relative income has no bearing in this. I personally would feel terrible and also have my checkbook out in this instance (or come up with a payment plan of some sort if I couldn't afford to give you the lump sum, which would have been true a couple of years ago but still would not impact my responsibility).

If you want to address the conversation, I think I'd approach it like this:

"Hey, FRIEND, I got the bill back from the computer shop. They say the motherboard is fried. Repairing it will cost $520." (Proffer written estimate) "How would you like to fix this?"

And wait and see what they say.

What do you do if they refuse to pony anything up? I'm not sure. But that would be a neutral way to approach the conversation. If they genuinely, positively cannot afford to give you money, perhaps they could provide you some in-kind services or some sort of material swap?
posted by arnicae at 4:02 PM on March 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

I think your friend should pay but "How would you like to fix this?" is probably unnecessarily demanding after mentioning the repair cost.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 4:06 PM on March 9, 2014 [5 favorites]

If I were your friend I'd offer to pay: spilling the water was negligent. If I were you, I'd have a hard time asking the friend to pay, though. Who has the most money is not relevant.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 4:09 PM on March 9, 2014 [7 favorites]

Just to add a different angle here: I would definitely recommend purchasing the Applecare upgrade, which I think covers you for three years. I have done this every single time I have bought an Apple computer, and every time it has saved me significantly more money than it has cost. It wouldn't help here, I don't think, as I don't believe that Apple covers water spillage (check, though!), but in general I'd highly recommend this.
posted by ClaireBear at 4:11 PM on March 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

I would definitely recommend purchasing the Applecare upgrade, which I think covers you for three years.

Yes, yes, I do this too...but that wouldn't help OP, Applecare does nothing for you in cases of water damage. The techs are very well trained to search for signs of liquid damage even if you don't tell them it was caused by liquid just because you are simply SOL with water damage.
posted by arnicae at 4:16 PM on March 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Unless there is a steep wealth disparity between you two, or unless the water spillage was the result of something truly nonvolitional, she should absolutely help pay for the repairs.

Laptops are common and valuable items. Water bottles are common and easily secured items. One should know how to behave when both laptops and water bottles are present.

I'm flummoxed by the idea of somebody who spills water in a classroom, fries a laptop, and doesn't offer to help out with costs. If you don't have $520 on-hand, then you don't have $520 on-hand, but offer SOME-thing. Jeez louise.
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:24 PM on March 9, 2014 [12 favorites]

Having a laptop in class is a convenience, not a requirement IMO in almost every case. Only OP can tell us if this was a class that required everyone in class to have a laptop.

If you bring your laptop out in public as a convenience and you know people might have drinks around it, then you're accepting the risk of something like this happening. Otherwise you can bring a notebook and pencil.

I would probably feel responsible to at least offer to help pay you to replace it, but the fact that your friend hasn't offered means she either can't afford it or she doesn't feel responsible (or feels it was just an accident). In either case, asking or demanding that she pay will probably damage or end your friendship. Is that worth it to you?
posted by nakedmolerats at 4:25 PM on March 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

Chiming in with it is her fault, and she is responsible. It isn't that it is her water, or that it was close, or that water is common in class. It is that she knocked it over. Whomever knocked it over is responsible. A total accident and an expensive one. Her being broke doesn't make her less responsible. I'd ask her for the full amount of the repair....what you spend it on is your business.

But I don't think you absolve someone a financial responsibility just because you are afraid they can't carry the weight of it unless you really really are that.much better off. You aren't. You also don't know how she might get the money, but talk to her. Let her think it through and say she can't get it and then negotiate.....maybe she can pay you half over time. But friends talk. So talk to her.
posted by anitanita at 4:26 PM on March 9, 2014 [7 favorites]

This is why my water bottle for in class has a Klean Kanteen sport cap, which while it would still spill some if the sport top were open, it would be on the order of a few drops, not the whole bottle of water. If you bring an open bottle of water into a classroom with laptops and people's notes and stuff and you then spill it, it's absolutely an accident, but it's absolutely your responsibility.

But the problem is the "friend" thing. You know this person. You know you're both struggling, and your savings can handle this. But you're not exactly flush. I don't think you'd be unreasonable to ask for the whole thing, but if I were you, I would probably suggest half, and offer that if she hasn't got it right now, you can make some kind of arrangement. In either case, I think the cost of an upgrade is on you, of course.
posted by Sequence at 4:27 PM on March 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

You chose to bring a luxury good out into public, and not? to have it insured (renters insurance might cover?), and to put your laptop down next to a water bottle. Assuming she didn't do this purposefully, this - for me - falls firmly in the camp of "shit happens".

Furthermore, you could argue that while *A* laptop is mandatory, the choice of luxury laptop was yours - so she would only at most be obligated to chip in for half of the cheapest laptop that would be serviceable for you.

Your choice to endager a luxury good should not cost her $500+ dollars because of routine everyday clumsiness... she is not any more "at fault" or "negligent" than you are. You left your laptop there, she left open water there. Would it be nice of her to offer to pay half? Sure. But you know, she may not have it. Having to admit this to someone with TWO MacBooks and "savings" - even if you are working two jobs - could be mortifying. When I was in school I didn't even have anyone to give me stuff like that - in fact, I was effectively sending money home... there's broke, and there's broke, and I'd tread carefully unless you know a lot of details about where she stands.

I would only ask if it were your ONLY computer and you had NO way to acquire one otherwise. People keep saying income doesn't come into it - let me tell you, when you have nothing and someone else enough... it does. I'd cut her some slack and give her the benefit of the doubt - that if she could, she would.

Perhaps a sports-cap style water bottle as a gag gift, and a friendly "it's ok" note to break the ice - and see what she says.

There is a Danish (?) movie about an uninsured college student who accidentally sideswipes a businessman's very expensive car to an amount that would probably ruin her for life. In a panic, she and her friends kidnap him. Over the ensuing days they get to know one another, spend much time discussing these issues (fairness, luxury goods, responsibility, etc.) and ultimately they let him go and they (with his help?) abscond to another country (Spain?) where his insurance can't reach them. I can't remember the title - maybe someone else will!

(Oh yeah - as part of my job I sometimes evaluate insurance claims.)
posted by jrobin276 at 4:50 PM on March 9, 2014 [28 favorites]

She shouldn't have to pay -- this is exactly the sort of thing that renter's/homeowner's insurance is for.

jrobin276: The Edukators (Die fetten Jahre sind vorbei)
posted by un petit cadeau at 5:02 PM on March 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

I guess it's possible this graduate school could be very different, but between my law school and master's programs, usually about half and often more than half of the student had laptops in any given class, and an awful lot of them were Macs because Mac markets aggressively to students. The chances of spilling on a Mac in any one of those classes, mostly populated by students who were no variety of well off, would have been quite high. It's not like the thing was studded with diamonds. I know, people make assumptions about law schools, but most of us were living on student loans. A decent lightweight laptop is generally, these days, considered a normal purchase to make for incoming students, and the Air is a very popular choice. Please don't feel guilty for using your laptop the way laptops were intended to be used.

This did make me think, though: If you haven't already maxed your student loans to the federal limits, I think you at least used to be able to get additional money added to your cost-of-living allowance to buy a new computer once a year or something. It ends up being a reimbursement, so you're out of pocket to start with, but it could make this a little easier.

(jrobin276, just as a note, the Chromebook is not an Apple product, it's sort of like an even more stripped down netbook. They are not generally considered to be appropriate to be a college student's only computer--there's a lot of software they won't run.)
posted by Sequence at 5:09 PM on March 9, 2014 [8 favorites]

I'd have to disagree with most people here.

As to question 1... she feels bad. That's enough, really. As you mention, "these things happen." Shit does indeed happen. It was a total mistake, and it seems silly to expect that everyone will be completely and utterly aware of the their surroundings at all times, and completely responsible for every innocent and random accident they cause. You say she should have "secured" her water bottle, and I find that choice of word telling... what do you mean by that? What does it even mean to "secure" your water bottle? Should she have velcroed it to the desk or padlocked it or something? By the same token, why didn't you "secure" your laptop? Both ideas are a little silly. This sort of thing will happen, and it happens to lots of us.

In college, my wife's roommate tipped over a lemonade onto my wife's laptop while they were studying and destroyed the keyboard. A couple of years ago, a friend came over and accidentally spilled a beer onto my couch, costing me a tidy cleaning bill. It was a total clumsy mistake and it wasn't as if he'd been horribly negligent.

You get my point. Follow your first instinct. Chalk it up to karma and let her off the hook. If you're lucky, you're going to cost someone $500 thanks to your mistakes and accidents at least several more times in life. The odds are that it may even happen more than that. The next time it happens, you will be thankful when someone says "it's ok, these things happen, thanks for your concern... but I know it was just an accident, and it's not the end of the world."

If she's a considerate person, she'll offer to do something small to help you replace it, even if it's just something small like taking you out to dinner. Whatever she offers to help with is gravy.

I really would not demand money. I would go for some karma here instead.

As to question 2... if you decide to replace your expensive laptop with another (newer) expensive laptop, no, that does not mean she owes you even more. If someone wrecks my Honda, and I decide to go out and buy a BMW, that doesn't mean they owe me BMW money for a replacement. Just because you are a fan of a more expensive computer brand doesn't mean she should have to pony up even more money.

That analogy is specious in some ways, anyway... when you go out to drive a car around, it's understood that you are to be 100% on your toes about not hitting other cars. Nobody carries around a water bottle thinking they need to be 100% on their toes about not dumping it on overly expensive electronics.

Best of luck figuring it out, and I'm sorry this happened- I know firsthand how frustrating something like this can be. But go for the karma this time and try to let it go.
posted by Old Man McKay at 5:09 PM on March 9, 2014 [17 favorites]

Can you clarify whether your friend knows that the computer is fried? I was initially offended because they didn't offer to pay for the potential repair (assuming it was determined that the computer was broken right then and there), but perhaps they didn't realize the extent of the damage/don't know that you are stressed out about this?
posted by joltron at 5:13 PM on March 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

I think she should offer, and I don't think you should ask.

I think friends should meet each other more than halfway in these situations. I think she doesn't hold full responsibility, but that she should act as if she does. And I think you would have the right to ask her to pay, but that it would be bad for the friendship.

What would worry me in your shoes is if she DOES feel the weight of responsibility, but knows there is no way in hell she could afford to pay up, so she is avoiding offering because she doesn't know what to do. That by itself will kill your friendship. She will avoid you out of guilt and you will avoid her out of resentment.

I think you guys need to talk. If she is a nice person, you can do the thing where you tell her how much it's going to cost, and assure her that you wouldn't ask her to pay, and then she will say that she DOES feel like she should pay, but can't afford it, and you can negotiate from there to some sort of solution that suits you both. (Which, in this case, might be that you truly don't accept her money, and manage to reassure her that you can still be friends.)

I have been a broke student both with savings (at first) and without (when they eventually ran out due to dipping into them for emergencies), and I know (a) how scary it is to have to dip into savings that you know won't last for your whole schooling, and (b) how impossible it would be to find $500 if you don't have savings and are barely scraping by. At one point I would have honestly had no way to scrape together any money to contribute to this sort of thing (I was already eating only boiled rice and lentils for every meal, and skipping breakfast because I couldn't afford three meals a day, and living in a converted attic because the rent was cheaper, and hiding in the toilet on the train to university when the conductor came because I couldn't afford the fare). In that situation I would probably still have offered to pay you, but I would have had literally no idea where to get the money from if you had taken me up on that offer, and I would have hoped like hell that our friendship and your savings would have meant you chose not to.
posted by lollusc at 5:27 PM on March 9, 2014 [9 favorites]

"Hey, [classmate], my laptop is in pretty poor shape after the water bottle incident. The repair shop says it will take [X monies] to get it back into working shape. I know neither one of us are rolling in it right now. Can you help with the bill?"

Assuming she will pay, insisting she will pay, or hounding her to pay after she has agreed to will damage your reputation (with me and people who think like me. There is obviously a subset of people who think otherwise. You only have to live with your own conscience.).
posted by itesser at 5:31 PM on March 9, 2014 [8 favorites]

Tell her the computer is fried, that you need to repair/replace it, and ask her if there's any amount she can contribute. Make sure she knows that it's okay if she can't, but that you'd really appreciate the help. As for the storage issue, external drives are really pretty cheap and can house photos and movies and things that you don't need to access much. I think you'd regret spending more for a better computer; an Air is perfect for school.

In the future, get renters insurance that covers accidental damage (it's not expensive) and do a better job of making sure people don't have drinks/food around your laptop in the future. I'm quite vigilant about that; people are accommodating, and I've never had a phone or computer get accidentally fried.
posted by annekate at 5:41 PM on March 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

There are mitigating circumstances that could sway the argument, like if it was your water bottle, or you explicitly told her not to have any liquids around the computer, but I think your respective incomes, how you each earn that income, and your second lap top are irrelevant. Either she's responsible or she's not, but I don't think these things have no impact on how or why accident happened.

Personally, I can't imagine being in your friend's position and not offering to pay for it, even it was $20/month.

I once had a freak accident happen in an apartment I used to live in. Some small thing on a shelf fell, bounced off the sink, into the toilet, and the toilet bowl broke. The landlord sent someone over to fix it right away, but said I'd have to pay for it along with the next rent check. I was indignant, insisting that it was his responsibility since it was just an accident, I was renting and he was the landlord. After I calmed down I realized he was right. You are the landlord in this story.
posted by Room 641-A at 5:51 PM on March 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm sorry this happened to you. It's really unfortunate.

I would never think of asking her to pay. Neither would I think to offer to pay if I were in her position. If she did offer to pay, I would refuse it, assuming that it was just a polite formality. I would expect her to make a fuss and try to find towels or something to clean it up.

I'm telling you this to let you know that contrary to the majority here, there are people who see this differently. I don't know if this is regional, ask vs. guess, or just my family of origin. It's disturbing to me to see how many people would put this huge cost on someone who did something clumsy, but not malicious.
posted by SandiBeech at 5:52 PM on March 9, 2014 [15 favorites]

Just wanted to say that I think calling a laptop a "convenience" as if it were an optional luxury is off the mark. Many different academic programs, especially graduate ones, explicitly require laptops (and not "access to a computer," but explicitly laptops) and I think it's unreasonable to equate using a laptop in an academic setting with leaving out a diamond tiara that got scratched or something.
posted by andrewesque at 5:57 PM on March 9, 2014 [18 favorites]

It's disturbing to me to see how many people would put this huge cost on someone who did something clumsy, but not malicious.

OP, I think this brings up an interesting point that you may want to consider when reading the answers here or making your decision. Are you looking to assign blame or responsibility?
posted by Room 641-A at 6:02 PM on March 9, 2014

We were required to have laptops in my undergraduate program. They really are not a luxury item, and it is certainly not unusual for students to have nice machines if they can afford to.

I too am surprised that your friend didn't offer to pay in some way. Sure, it was accidental. Something being an accident doesn't absolve one of all responsibility to help make it right. I think it's fair to ask for a portion of the repair cost, if she can manage it. Say "You know, I've got to replace or repair that fried computer. Can you help me out with that? I know we both are pretty skint but I wouldn't be asking if this was something I could easily take care of myself." Let her offer what she can, and then gratefully accept it, even if it's not much.
posted by oneirodynia at 6:07 PM on March 9, 2014 [6 favorites]

It's odd to me that some posters seem to think that one's action must be intentional or malicious in order for it to fall within the purview of one's responsibility. If I hit someone's car, or if I break someone's vase, those can (and definitely would be) entirely accidental actions on my part - but I would still have responsibility to make the other person right (or the insurance that I had purchased for this reason would). Laptops in the modern graduate seminar are a necessity, not a luxury (and as andrewesque said, many graduate programs explicitly require them). Open bottles of liquid are irresponsible in a graduate classroom. You were perfectly appropriate in bringing your laptop to class and using it for its intended purpose and your friend - while not malicious or intentionally destructive - was negligent and is consequently responsible.
posted by ClaireBear at 6:10 PM on March 9, 2014 [38 favorites]

I do think it is unreasonable to expect your acquaintance to pay up, because, while laptops are surely a necessary tool for studying, unless there was some sort of rule about not bringing drinks into the study area, it's also pretty much a part of student culture to bring water bottles etc into the study room.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:42 PM on March 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'd like some more information. Were you sitting at a table free of beverages and she came in and put her drink on the table? Did you bring your laptop to a table that already had beverages? Did you have a beverage (in an open-topped container)? Did anyone say anything about drinks? Do you all usually bring drinks? Was there a rule or sign or anything?

Laptops are a necessary tool in university. I don't think you should feel ashamed.

As long as you didn't bring your laptop to a table that already had drinks, I think you could tell her the amount and ask her if she has ideas for working it out. Maybe aim for 50%.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 6:44 PM on March 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

We're adults. If I break someone's thing, it's on me to fix it. Of course it's not malicious - if it was malicious, this would be be an actual crime - but it's still my fault.

I guess if OP had somehow damaged the other person's water bottle with her laptop, they should replace the water bottle, too. But that's not what went down.
posted by ftm at 6:44 PM on March 9, 2014 [11 favorites]

Would also like to hear what's been said about it between you so far. If it were me, I might mention the outcome and cost of the repair, and wouldn't request a contribution. If nothing were offered, I'd drop it. If something were offered, I'd take half of that.

My 2012 15" MBP is slightly too heavy for all-day comfort (newer models may be lighter) and the battery can't make it through a whole day of classes - I'm in constant search of outlets. Plus I'm paranoid about taking it anywhere but to campus. I don't know what your needs are, but I'd now choose 1) tablet + keyboard + stand (light; more manageable in public) & home desktop (cheaper, ergonomic) or 2) a 13" refurbed MBP (cheaper, light) that could work with an external monitor & wireless keyboard setup (ergonomic) at home, given some money, or 3) a cheap, reliable Windows laptop with a good battery life (or possibility of an external battery) that wouldn't have me sweating in coffee shops or crying if it broke. They're not that different from macs if you're not doing creative work. I actually think 3 is the best choice for a mobile student without deep pockets. Plus, with a Windows platform, you can use qiqqa.
posted by cotton dress sock at 6:47 PM on March 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

About the repair: take it to an real Apple Store. They do a fixed cost laptop hardware repair that's about $300, covering anything required. I had them replace the logic board and trackpad in my out-of-warranty 2011 Macbook Pro for that. That is worst-case - they may charge you less.
Often they will just give you back a different refurbished machine that is indistinguishable from new.
Back up first - you often get given back a blank machine.

Then you can sell that and buy a Mac with more storage.
posted by w0mbat at 6:58 PM on March 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm not sure if this is pedantry on my part but how did a water bottle that was three feet away come to "drench" your laptop? I'm imagining either:
(1) The gush of water ran across the table and got into the laptop through the bottom,
(2) There was some kind of big flailing action on your friend's part that propelled the thing with a lot of force
[or (3) You misremembered/misstated the distance].

I actually think scenarios 1 or 2 might affect my understanding of who was responsible here - while you could well argue that a water bottle getting knocked over is a thing that happens, normally there would be time to lift your laptop out of the way of a gush of water coming from three feet away, unless your friend spilled the water and didn't notice/didn't say anything. Similarly, if she was behaving in a reckless way that might lead to the bottle being flung at your laptop, that's a different thing.

FWIW, if my unintentional act led to a friend's laptop being ruined, I would offer to pay. I think there are a couple of good neutral scripts above that you could use to raise it with her, but ultimately if she balks there's probably no good way to demand payment.
posted by Cheese Monster at 7:37 PM on March 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

If I had damaged your laptop in this manner, I would consider myself 100% morally, ethically, and legally responsible for the full amount of the damage.

How much money I have in this scenario, how much money you have, your future purchase plans, etc. are all irrelevant. I would pawn my own shit, borrow from parents, take out a loan, or get a part time job (or all of the above) if I had to, to make you whole.

I don't think I could remain friends with someone who wouldn't do the same - not over the money, but I just feel strongly that anything less is shirking responsibility and that doesn't work for me.
posted by peep at 8:01 PM on March 9, 2014 [10 favorites]

NO, Apple flat rate repair DOES NOT cover liquid damage in almost all cases (there are moisture "sensors" that when tripped will give away the source of the damage, let alone that it's basically always obvious once a tech opens the machine) this is the case if you take it to a "real" Apple store or an Apple specialist. Flat rate repairs of approx. $325-ish are a great solution if you don't have liquid damage and do have a backup of data, you say you have dropbox backups so that's good. (If you didn't DriveSavers forensic data recovery can cost anywhere from 2 to 3 thousand dollars, an external usb HD costs anywhere from $60 to $100. IT folklore says unbacked up data is no data, 1 backup is the bare minimum or you are basically asking for it.)

That being said take it to a "real" Apple store or if you can an Apple certified specialist and ask real nice, you never know.

As to the morality of it consult a rabbi I guess. Practically I suggest going to your friend and being honest and saying this is a hard hit to take and who's fault it is, is murky, but can we work out some kind of cost sharing? If your credit is up to it you can finance through Apple and if you pay it off during the grace period won't have to pay the insane interest, normal financing/credit warnings apply. This would at least give you some time to resolve the issue.

Local reputable apple specialists often have refurb base model macbook pros that could probably at least run OS X 10.6.8 for approx. $500 to $600 dollars at least in my area, the North East of the USA .

This is a social engineering issue, be honest with you friend, don't accuse and be gentle and you'll have the best chance to work it out, don't give her an opportunity to get defensive and be brave about asking her to share responsibility and you'll have the best chance of getting her to help you out.
posted by Divine_Wino at 8:09 PM on March 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Back in school, my friends and I were hanging out in my room, and one of them spilled a cocktail on my laptop. I unplugged it, took out the battery, and tried to let it sort of dry out, then left to go do something. When I came back, my friend (the spiller) had put the battery back in and plugged it back in and was trying to get it to play music (which was obviously not happening). I freaked out a little and tried to rescue it again. The damage was similarly a few hundred dollars, but it seriously never even occurred to me to ask my friend to chip in. Reading this thread, I'm wondering if I should've, but I can't quite imagine how I would've had that conversation.
posted by loulou718 at 8:09 PM on March 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

posted by mlis at 8:20 PM on March 9, 2014

PS. A quote of a replacement motherboard & labor of $520 is maybe a little low, make sure the place you took it to is an Apple certified repair shop. Apple logic board replacements are closer to $750 at a retail store and that plus a bench fee/labor fee of $75 to $125 at a certified specialist. Present your story nicely at an apple retail store or specialist and you might get lucky.
posted by Divine_Wino at 8:21 PM on March 9, 2014

I'm wrapping up the my time in grad school and in all my classes (outside those taking place in a computer lab) both computers and water containers were normally present. Containers were usually capped when not being drunk from, but the mere presence of water was considered neither abnormal nor negligent, though I imagine such norms will differ from program to program, region to region, etc.
posted by audi alteram partem at 8:34 PM on March 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

PPS. (sorry I'm having L'esprit de l'escalier) You can get a non-apple approved logic board for less from ifixit or someone like them, and get someone to install it for you on the cheap and many people have fine experiences with that, but nowhere Apple owned or certified will ever be less than massively reluctant to do any kind of work on your machine when that is in there. Apple is very serious about quality of service, for better or worse.
posted by Divine_Wino at 8:45 PM on March 9, 2014

I don't think she gets off the hook because it was an accident, I think she gets off the hook because she wasn't explicitly responsible for your laptop in that situation.

When you take your laptop out of the house, is everybody responsible for its safety at all times? I don't think so. Are there situations where you *can* hold other people accountable for the safety of your laptop. Absolutely! For instance, if your friend had borrowed your laptop instead, and while using it she accidentally spilled water on it, she would definitely be on the hook for the repairs, because (usually) when you borrow something, you take explicit responsibility for its care.

When you drive a car you are explicit responsibility for damages caused by your vehicle. It is a responsibility you accept when you get behind the wheel. When you sit down at a table with some laptops, I do not believe you take explicit responsibility for them. If people want to enact some rules regarding the use of laptops and drinks on tables, I think that's a great idea, because it *creates* responsibility. But you can't hold someone to a level of responsibility after the fact that they weren't even aware existed before.
posted by grog at 8:56 PM on March 9, 2014 [9 favorites]

Whatever you decide to do, put a keyboard cover on your next/repaired laptop.
posted by asperity at 9:14 PM on March 9, 2014

This is a meaty question. I've been turning this around in my head all night.

There's a difference between a renter breaking a toilet bowl that they are legally responsible for, and what happened to your laptop. One is covered by a legal document, the other is just crap that can happen if you take a valuable out of the house. But it also *feels* different. She wasn't carrying or borrowing your laptop at the time. Nor was she tossing the bottle of water over your head to somebody on the other side of you. "You ought to have been more careful with that water bottle" and "you ought to have protected your laptop quicker when the water went flying" both sound equally nit-picky. And if this were the case, I'd be chasing down the person who stepped on my foot and scuffed my boot coming off of the train as well as the driver who splashed my nice wool coat with mud to ask for restitution.

I think if your friend felt she was financially responsible for the repairs, she'd have already offered to pay. Water from three feet away that landed in the precise manner to fry your MB strikes me as more "Act of God" and less "at-fault." But if you do get money from her to repair your Air and then pony up more than what you asked her to pay in order to upgrade to a MBP, I'd think that was tacky.

Plus, you still have a second, functioning laptop.
posted by kimberussell at 9:24 PM on March 9, 2014 [6 favorites]

My current partners roommate damaged my at the time brand new 17in macbook pro in a very similar way. The only difference was she tripped and fell into it(there's more to this story, but i don't want to get into it), not spilled on it.

There was a bit of hemming and hawing and soul searching on both sides, but i eventually took it to apple and got a quote and basically said "figure it out".

She eventually cut me a check, and we're still on friendly terms.

Once they give you the money, it's up to you what to do with it. Think of it like property insurance cutting you a check. You don't have to buy exactly the same thing, but you don't get to ask for more than a direct repair/replacement would cost.

I think getting the repair cost is the maximum fair amount. If you choose to get a new machine, that's on you. They should only have to pay for what would get you back into the position you were in before the damage occurred.

I also think that the arguments about this being a professional environment and such are very good points. You did not put it in harms way. It's not like you were using it on the arm of a chair next to a busy walkway and she knocked it off. From the info given, this is along the lines of if she backed into your parked car due to a visibility issue or something. It isn't malicious, but it's somewhere around an accident with a nice frosting of negligence.

As a note of advice, sell the broken machine on ebay. You'll get more than you think. Take the money you're given for the repair and put it towards a used or refurbished nicer machine. That's exactly what i did, and now i have a 15in retina macbook pro i only put a couple hundred bucks into out of immediate pocket.

I don't think that taking the money and getting something else is in any way wrong or tacky. It's like a car being totaled out in a wreck and getting a check to buy a new one. People really need to be thinking more in that mindset. It's a piece of equipment you use for your work, not a fancy handbag or something.

People are trying to avoid an awkward or "rude" conversation here because a lot of people on here think that sort of awkwardness = satan. The fact is they broke it, if they hadn't been there it wouldn't be broken. I've ponied up in these sorts of situations before for what it's worth, so i definitely walk my talk on this.
posted by emptythought at 9:30 PM on March 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for feedback, everyone. It's comforting to hear such a diversity of perspectives, because I really didn't know what to do. My friend checked in with me a few days ago about what's happening with the computer, and now that I know the technical update I'm just going to let her know what's up and what the $$ works out to, and leave it open-ended as to whether she contributes. She is a fabulous person who is also a good person, so I'll trust that she does what she feels is appropriate. It's a big financial hit for me, but I think it's just what happens when I take my most expensive+precious object into the dangerous world.

Just because I think there's some misapprehension in the thread I want to correct (and, full disclosure, I have a working-out-of-necessity-student-at-an-elite-institution-that-doesn't-value-working-students chip on my shoulder, so feel free to stop reading here): a $200 Chromebook, which is my "second laptop" is indeed a wonderful resource for travel and light note-taking in school, but not actually a viable machine for school. It runs entirely on the Chrome platform and will not allow me to perform necessary school duties like turning in assignments online or using any non-Chrome software like the statistical or design programs required for my work. I mention the $200 price point not because $200 is paltry, but because it may help to think of it as being more on par with a lower-end tablet in terms of viability for a graduate program. I'm not Scrooge McDuck diving into a pool of spare laptops, here. I'm below-average on financial resources for my program and I work like hell to earn what I have.
posted by c'mon sea legs at 9:39 PM on March 9, 2014 [10 favorites]

I knocked a water bottle onto my MacBook last year, and felt like a total idiot. I am super nervous about people having liquids around it, and I would feel completely responsible if I did this to someone else's computer.

This is also why I use a Camelbak Podium water bottle only!
posted by radioamy at 10:47 PM on March 9, 2014

This seem fairly simple to me.

Laptops belong on tables in classrooms. Puddles of water do not. The OP did absolutely nothing wrong by setting her laptop on a classroom table. Her friend absolutely did do something wrong, not necessarily but putting her water bottle on the table, but by knocking her non-watertight water bottle over, thus creating a puddle. Not wrong as in malicious, but wrong as in accidentally wrong. She still made a mistake.

In an ideal world, an innocent mistake would not cost us $500+. In this case, OP's friend is unlucky. If the water had drenched a paper diary belonging to someone else, I would expect her to pay the replacement cost of the paper diary. If it had irreparably drenched a textbook, I'd expect her to replace the textbook. When you make a mistake, and it causes financial loss to someone who hasn't made a mistake, you pay. It sucks, but there it is.

Who earns what is irrelevant, as is how many computers the OP owns, what they are worth, or what the culture of putting water bottles on classroom desks is. Everybody puts laptops on desks. Nobody should put puddles of water on desks. The end, IMO.

(I also don't think comparisons to accidental damage in domestic settings are relevant. A classroom is a neutral space, akin to a workplace. The etiquette of dealing with accidental damage caused by an invited guest to one's home is not applicable.)
posted by Salamander at 11:29 PM on March 9, 2014 [12 favorites]

Oh, to be clear about my answer to the actual question:

Would I ask her to pay if I was the OP? No. I would not consider it worth losing the friendship over. I would make sure she knew how much it cost me, and hope that she offered. If we were talking about an acquaintance rather than a friend, I might feel differently.

Would I offer to pay if I was the OP's friend? Yes, absolutely.
posted by Salamander at 11:34 PM on March 9, 2014

Nthing that home and comments insurance often covers stuff like this. If you have it, it's worth checking out.
posted by smoke at 11:36 PM on March 9, 2014

Don't either of you have appropriate insurance? Situations like this are why it exists. Contents insurance for you so you can have nice things and not worry about them, personal liability insurance for your friend so that she can go out into the world without racking up huge bills by accident. They often go together and don't cost a lot. Look into it to make sure neither of you have personal liability insurance bundled in with something else (car insurance, a credit card, etc), and, if not, consider changing the situation so this doesn't happen again in the future.

Otherwise it could be argued that this is your fault because your belongings weren't properly insured and this was also her fault because she's not properly insured either. That's what's making this all so murky.
posted by shelleycat at 11:38 PM on March 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Obviously there is massive room for disagreement here but to me this falls into 'shit happens' territory. Yes, it would be nice of her to pay and maybe you could get her to pay if you pressed it. You might even be in the right. But sometimes the right right thing to do is just suck it up and re-evaluate your friendship.
posted by sweet mister at 4:36 AM on March 10, 2014

I once did damage to a mate's car. I paid up. I'd feel shite if I hadn't.

I'm sort of surprised this is a question.

The 'right' thing is that your mate ponies up. If they don't, I wouldn't sue them, but I certainly would be miffed.
posted by pompomtom at 4:43 AM on March 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

By the way, in case you're looking for a non-confrontational way of broaching this with her, you can say "it's gonna cost $500 to replace... I'm not sure what the rights and wrongs of this are myself, so I'll just leave it to you to decide what to do".
posted by sweet mister at 4:58 AM on March 10, 2014

You've gotten lots of advice about the spill and dealing with your friend. I'm going to side-step that.

So, you're considering getting a refurb MBP for a total purchase price of aprox $1200? ($700 on top of $500 it would cost to fix the Air?). Your only complaint of the Air (in it's pre-soggy state), was a lack of storage? A portable, USB powered HD of 1TB capacity is like, $60. Less if you'd go for 500GB.

Get a quote for popping in a new, larger HD at the same time the motherboard is replaced, especially if you don't care about the contents of the old HD. You can also get a case for the old HD, and use it as a back up/spare storage.

Of course, this assumes your repair shop is reputable and their estimate in the first place was accurate.
posted by fontophilic at 6:49 AM on March 10, 2014

Recently, someone set a glass of water near my laptop, and I noticed and moved my laptop immediately. I don't think I would ask, or accept money if someone spilled on my laptop. I should have been more careful with it.

That said, if I spilled water on someones laptop, I would feel terrible and offer money to help cover repairs.
posted by czytm at 6:52 AM on March 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have been thinking about this. In this case -- where it was entirely accidental, and both of you are more or less equally at fault and equally poor, I think it's fair to split the repair costs. If you get an estimate, she gives you half of it, and you decide to use that half to upgrade, that's okay, but figure out a way to warn your friend before you show up in class one day with an even more expensive computer so she doesn't feel like a sucker. (If, for instance, you were living off a trust fund, I would think you'd be an asshole for taking her money; if she were living off one, she'd be an asshole for not paying the entire repair bill. I know this isn't the case, but "well, I'll just go off an buy a more expensive laptop" looks bad without knowing the details.)
posted by jeather at 7:13 AM on March 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

What does it even mean to "secure" your water bottle?

Well, for one, close the cap so that it doesn't spill. This is kind of basic ethics of existing anywhere near electronics.

The friend is totally responsible. I think you're getting some bad advice here because people are fixating on your savings, and having a lot of sympathy for the other poor grad student because of economic status. But it's still her responsibility. If you want to let her off the hook because of poverty, that's one thing, but she should still offer to pay or help pay.
posted by corb at 7:19 AM on March 10, 2014 [5 favorites]

I think the person who spilled the water should offer to pay for it, or at least cover some of the costs.

However, unless this person has offered, I don't think you're going to get any money out of them. So unless you are willing to go to small claims court or drop this person as a friend, the question is pretty much moot.

When I was an undergrad, a friend was using my desktop computer and spilled the soda she was drinking all over my iMac keyboard. She apologized, promised to replace it, and I didn't really have the money for a new one. So I waited and waited and waited...and I never got my new keyboard.

Maybe she didn't have the money, maybe she didn't think she should have to replace my expensive iMac keyboard because I could have gone which a much cheaper computer (it was a gift, but whatever). But really, my only options were to hold it against her forever, go to small claims court, or to let it go. I let it go. Assigning blame didn't get my stuff replaced.
posted by inertia at 7:38 AM on March 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I was one of the ones who came down on the side of the laptop's owner absorbing the cost-- at least, as opposed to directly asking the other person to pay. Whether I accepted an offer of money would depend on things like our relative circumstances and how it happened. If they could pay painlessly, and I was horribly poor, I'd probably let them help if they offered, and if it seemed like the accident was their responsibility. As to the (different) question of whether they should offer, I would really like to know more about how it happened. Was there any aspect of it that was foreseeable and that they could reasonably have prevented? I would not judge someone negatively for thinking, "No, there was really no way I could see that coming" and deciding it was not their fault-- if the circumstances justified that. The description of this event doesn't give me enough to guess whether the person could have reasonably expected to see this coming.
posted by BibiRose at 8:59 AM on March 10, 2014

Do either of you have renters insurance? My laptop is covered through mine.
posted by spunweb at 10:24 AM on March 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

If I had destroyed something expensive of someone else's, I would expect to pay for the lowest cost option to get them back up to speed.
posted by spindrifter at 11:27 AM on March 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's either an accident and no one's fault or they're both at fault. If the person with the water bottle is at fault for spilling it, the owner of the laptop is equally if not more responsible for not watching out for their stuff. Especially if the water bottle was three feet away from the computer. That's more than enough time to move the laptop.
posted by stavrogin at 2:34 PM on March 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

I am also in a graduate school in a doctoral program and I would say if I accidentally knocked over some water that damaged a friend/classmates computer or any item (books, other technology, etc.,) I would definitely chip in to help pay for the damage. I would offer to pay for as much as I can, depending on the cost of the item. That being said, yes I do think your friend should chip in and help pay for the laptop.

To your second question, as an academic I understand how important it is to have technology that allows us to do our job. The macbook pro option is definitely a good idea, especially since it sounded like the macbook air wasn't quite working for you (limited storage, etc). If you do decide to upgrade my opinion is that your friend still should pitch in and in my opinion that doesn't change her obligation.

I hope your friend gets in touch with you soon to discuss how he/she can pitch in and help. This is precisely what I would do. If I accidentally damage something of someone else, I try to rectify this as best as I can.

Good luck!
posted by lullu73 at 10:29 AM on March 12, 2014

oops meant to say "no matter the cost of the item" not "depending on the cost..."
posted by lullu73 at 10:35 AM on March 12, 2014

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