Jonathan D. Selbin, chair of the defective products practice group at the national plaintiffs’ law firm Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP, announced today that the U.S. Supreme Court this morning rejected an effort by Whirlpool Corporation (WHR) to escape accountability for manufacturing millions of allegedly defective washers that it sold to American families. Whirlpool asked the Supreme Court to review the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit that allowed consumers to pursue claims in a class action against Whirlpool for selling the allegedly defective front-load washers from 2001 to 2008.
The consumers allege that the foreign-manufactured washers are defective because they accumulate mold and require extraordinary and expensive actions by consumers to reduce the effects of that mold, such as running extra cleaning cycles, leaving the door open between use, and wiping down the washer after every use with bleach. They also allege that Whirlpool instructed them—only after purchase—that they needed to routinely buy another product sold by Whirlpool, Affresh™, to reduce the effects of the mold, at substantial cost to consumers and profit to Whirlpool.
“Consumers brought this case to make this multi-billion-dollar corporation stand behind its product,” Selbin said. “The federal court of appeals, applying long-standing, fundamental legal principles, twice unanimously sided with plaintiffs, holding that they can sue Whirlpool for breach of warranty to get what they paid for. We are pleased that the Supreme Court declined to intervene and rejected Whirlpool’s baseless challenges to the rulings in the case. Whirlpool’s latest attempt to escape accountability for its defective products has failed.”
Selbin explained that “Whirlpool knew when it sold the very first one of these washers that everything about their care and use was different than the top load washers consumers used without problem for decades— in Whirlpool’s own words, that these were ‘not your mother’s washing machine.'”
“Instead of explaining that to consumers prior to purchase so they could make an informed decision,” Selbin said, “Whirlpool chose to hide that critical information until after the sale, and then charged consumers for an entirely new and different product to the tune of a couple hundred dollars each over the life of the machine.” Selbin also said that when consumers complained to Whirlpool, their warranty claims were denied: “Whirlpool refused to stand behind its washers. Whirlpool left these families no choice but to seek to hold Whirlpool accountable through the civil court system. Despite years of procedural maneuverings by Whirlpool to derail this case, the families will now finally get their day in court.”
The lawsuit, Glazer v. Whirlpool Corporation, was originally filed by a Cleveland, Ohio-area woman, Gina Glazer, who purchased a defective Whirlpool Duet Sport washer in 2006. Shortly after her purchase, Ms. Glazer’s washer developed mold and foul odors, despite her extraordinary attempts to regularly clean her washer. Ms. Glazer contacted Whirlpool and they refused to provide any remedy. “We paid a lot of money for this machine and expected to get a quality product for our family,” Glazer said. “Instead, we got a machine that stunk up our home and stunk up my families’ clothes, including my young children’s clothes. Whirlpool should stand behind their product and should be accountable when their product fails to function as promised.”
In 2010, the federal District Court for the Northern District of Ohio permitted the case filed by Ms. Glazer, along with the claims filed by a Columbus, Ohio-area woman, Trina Allison, to go forward as a class action on behalf of all Ohio purchasers of defective Whirlpool front loading washers. Whirlpool appealed that decision to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, Ohio. That court has twice agreed with the district court that the case can proceed as a class action on behalf of all purchasers of the defective washers in Ohio. Today, the Supreme Court declined to review that decision.
The Supreme Court also today declined to hear an appeal by Sears Roebuck & Company (SHLD), made by consumers who purchased Kenmore-branded washers from Sears identical to the washers in the Whirlpool litigation. In that litigation, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with consumers that they should be permitted to move forward with their lawsuit in federal court in Illinois. Consumers’ claims in the Sears case—that the Whirlpool-manufactured Kenmore washers are defective—are similar to the claims in the Whirlpool case.
“One-hundred percent of people who purchased these defective Whirlpool and Kenmore machines, as alleged in our lawsuit, have gotten something less than they paid for,” Selbin said. “According to Whirlpool’s own records, just a few years after the Whirlpool front loading washers were introduced in America, between 35% and 50% of consumers had already experienced foul odors,” Selbin said. “Whirlpool should stand up and be accountable for the harm they have caused to hard-working American families.”
In addition to the Whirlpool and Sears FLW class action cases, the Supreme Court also denied a petition for writ of certiorari against BSH Home Appliances Corporation, the manufacturer of Bosch washing machines in Tait v. BSH Home Appliances Corp. In this case, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals declined to review the trial court’s grant of certification to four statewide consumer classes in California, Illinois, Maryland, and New York. The Bosch consumers, like the Whirlpool and Sears consumers, allege that their machines are defective causing mold, mildew, and horrible smells.
About Lieff Cabraser
Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP, is a sixty-plus attorney law firm with offices in San Francisco, New York, and Nashville. We are among the largest law firms in the United States that represent only plaintiffs.
We are committed to achieving justice for consumers, employees, patients, investors, and business owners; promoting safer products and fair competition; protecting our environment; assisting individuals blow the whistle on fraud; safeguarding the rights of patent and copyright holders; and remedying violations of the civil rights of citizens worldwide.
Jonathan D. Selbin
Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP