Local Lieff lawyer wins class-action decision in Whirlpool case

Front-loader liability complaint closer to moving forward

A class-action decision against Whirlpool Corp. was upheld in the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati Thursday, enabling a lawsuit that accused the company of selling faulty washing machines to move forward.

Nashville attorney Mark Chalos of Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, pictured, was lead counsel in the multi-district case, originally filed in 2008 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.

Consumers discovered that design defects in several of Whirlpool’s Duet front-loading washing machines they said allowed mold and mildew to grow throughout the machine. Documents filed in the case showed that Whirlpool knew that front-load machines were the “ideal environment for mold.”

The lawsuit alleged that between 2003 and 2006 Whirlpool had received over 1.3 million complaints on the washers but continued to sell the faulty machines, even creating a new marketing campaign and cleaning product to sell customers looking to solve odor problems.

“I think it’s outrageous,” co-counsel Jonathan Selbin of Lieff Cabraser’s New York office told The Today Show. “A company sells a defective product and then they sell you a fix for that product.”

Whirlpool petitioned the Supreme Court after its original appeals court appeal was denied, contesting the class-action status. The Supreme Court ordered the Sixth Circuit judges to review the decision in light of a recent ruling in a case against Comcast case that also involved class-action status. 

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Comcast in March 2013, ordering that a group of Philadelphia customers accusing Comcast of overcharging and monopolizing the market could not sue as a group. The subscribers could not establish that the “damages are capable of measurement on a class-wide basis,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote at the time.

But the appeals court in Ohio this week upheld the class-action status as “the superior method” in holding Whirlpool responsible and affirmed its original judgment.

“Hundreds of thousands of families were hoodwinked by Whirlpool,” Chalos said. “The case has now been reviewed by two federal appeals courts on three different occasions and the courts have unanimously found that the plaintiffs’ claims should go forward, and the families should get their day in court.”

Counsel for the plaintiffs hope to bring the case to trial to determine damages but expect Whirlpool will appeal again.