After a year of saving, the time had finally come. Seventeen-year-old Julia Silverman was finally going to upgrade to a 64 GB iPhone 6. All of her hard work had finally paid off.
For her birthday, Julia's friend bought her a LifeProof frē case for her new phone. LifeProof is popular for manufacturing phone and tablet cases that it says are waterproof, dirt proof, snow proof, and shock proof.
The timing was perfect, because she was gearing up for a trip to Mexico and she could use the case to protect her phone on the beach. Or so she thought.
Sometime in the excitement to take a fun picture in the ocean, the phone was dunked under water for a brief moment. No problem, right?
After an odd warning quickly flashed on the screen, the phone died and refused to come back to life. When Julia removed the case, the phone had water all over it. This was the first day of vacation and Julia was obviously devastated. When the Silverman family arrived back in the US, Julia and her father, Wayne, set out to remedy the situation.
They contacted LifeProof customer service, but were told that LifeProof could not assist them with a damaged device, because LifeProof doesn't cover customer devices.
LifeProof does offer something called the Total Water Protection Program (TWPP), but it is an additional insurance program offered through Verizon corporate stores only.
After being informed by the customer service employee that LifeProof is not responsible for device damage, the employee agreed to reimburse Wayne for the device as an exception. Wayne was refunded $299.
Wayne and Julia's story isn't uncommon. A quick Twitter search for "LifeProof damage" will turn up a ton of tweets from disgruntled customers whose devices were damaged while using one of these cases.
LifeProof isn't to be singled out in the matter, either. In my former life as an Apple Store employee, I heard similar tales of damaged devices over and over again. Stories of phones run over by trucks or dropped in the toilet regularly ended with a version of "...but I had X brand case on it!"
Here's the caution in this cautionary tale. Ruggedized cases from companies such as LifeProof or Otterbox (which acquired LifeProof in 2013), certainly offer greater protection than your average case or not having a case at all— but they won't make your phone indestructible. Just because you see someone surfing with their smartphone doesn't mean yours won't be damaged if you do the same thing.
And no one should intentionally test the limits of these products with a device they aren't willing to lose. This is especially true with the high cost of smartphones.
For example, the 64GB iPhone 6 that Julia purchased may list at $299 with a contract upgrade, but the retail cost of the phone is really $749. The lower cost is achieved when the carrier eats $450 of the cost in exchange for your agreement to a two year contract. So, within that two year time frame before your next upgrade, you probably will not be able to purchase an identical phone for less than $749. This is why new phone replacements are so tricky — no one wants to be on the hook for that much money.
The bottom line is this: No matter what accessories you purchase, the burden of financial responsibility for physical and liquid damage on a smartphone will always fall to the owner. LifeProof makes this fact clear on their website:
"LifeProof does not warrant, and is not responsible for, any smart phone or other device made by anyone other than LifeProof."
"In addition to and without limiting the generality of the foregoing disclaimers, the limited warranty does not, under any circumstances, cover the replacement or cost of any electronic device or personal property inside or outside of the LifeProof product."
Jordan Vater, senior public relations specialist at Otter Products, further clarified the company's warranty:
"Every single LifeProof case is water tested at our manufacturing facility prior to shipment and our products are not distributed without first passing our stringent quality standards," he said. "Materials are provided to assist consumers with at-home water testing prior to installing their personal device in the LifeProof case. This at-home testing helps our consumers feel confident installing the case properly. We also recommend performing this water test in the event that the case is dropped.
LifeProof case designs are tested to protect against water to a depth of two meters (6.6 feet) when used properly. In addition to in-house testing of our cases, we validate our results with independent, third-party testing facilities to ensure LifeProof cases meet and exceed our consumers' expectations.
LifeProof does not warranty the devices themselves but we do offer an industry-leading one-year product warranty covering the case or LifeProof accessory only. While we are extremely confident in the performance of our products, we do not warranty the mobile devices they protect because there are so many factors out of our control that go into surviving water, drops and other hazards, including the condition of the phone and case itself."
If you lead an active lifestyle, and want to bring your phone along to document it, you should absolutely purchase the most protective case that you can find. Just understand that you're still responsible for protecting your phone. The exception made for the Silverman family was just that — an exception. Don't expect to get any money back in a similar situation.
If you do want extra protection from covering the entire cost of a damaged phone, consider buying a carrier-provided or vendor-provided warranty/insurance plan that covers accidental damage. These plans typically require an upfront or monthly cost, but they usually provide a replacement phone at a copay that is much lower than purchasing another phone outright.
For many people, a smartphone simply makes their lives easier. But, for some, their device is their main tool for their profession, or the only way they catalog the monumental moments in their kids' lives.
Our phones are very important to us, so we should take all the precautions necessary to see that they remain functional and prove their value.
Conner Forrest has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.