Exercise equipment manufacturer Precor failed in its quest to get a judge to scuttle a federal class action complaint, which alleged the company sold treadmills it knew included inaccurate heart rate sensors.
In an opinion issued June 16 in Chicago, Judge Harry D. Leinenweber denied a motion Precor, Inc., filed to ask him to reconsider his March certification of a class action brought against the company by plaintiffs Gary Mednick and Steven Bayer.
Leinenweber noted his certification was limited as he allowed the case to proceed only for the purpose of determining liability, reserving issues related to damages for individual hearings. He called that a “hard won” victory for the plaintiffs, noting they “significantly narrowed the proposed class” after he refused to certify the initial broad proposal in June 2016.
In response, Mednick and Bayer dropped a warranty claim, halved the number of states for which they sought warranty fraud claims from 10 to five and narrowed the focus on Precor products to nine models of treadmills, rather than also including ellipitcals and stationary bicycles in their claims. Remaining was a “pure consumer fraud action” alleging Precor marketed its treadmills deceptively, the judge said.
With the lawsuit focusing only on graphics on the nine treadmills in question and whether Precor knowingly kept information from customers that might have influenced purchasing decisions, “plaintiffs could carry their burden to show proximate causation with classwide proof,” Leinenweber wrote.
Precor moved for reconsideration, asserting “multiple manifest errors of law,” but Leinenweber noted “no such motion exists under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.” He further explained the company did not allege new facts, stressing the touch sensors perform differently based on a user’s individual physiology. He noted Precor’s own testimony acknowledged a majority of users experience inaccurate reading, and said the company’s language implying sensors work “whether you walk or run” negates its contention a class action is inappropriate because “the type and intensity of the exercise performed” affects accuracy.
Leinenweber further explained the complaint included reports of testing the two sensor systems in all the accused products, which keeps Precor from claiming “the heart rate system included in the machine” determined results.
“Given the court’s prior disposal of the issue, Precor cannot raise the same argument yet again and hope for a different result,” Leinenweber wrote. The only new information Precor offered, he added, seems to be an attempt “to discredit its own expert’s study” by pointing to minimal warranty claims rather than product testing data showing a majority of users could not get the sensors to function properly. However, even Bayer noted he didn’t file a warranty claim, but testified his monitor didn’t work.
Leinenweber also restated his earlier opinion that human error involved in faulty sensor readings “is neither idiosyncratic nor due to human failings alone,” pointing to a study in which participants given instructions still failed to get accurate figures.
Precor also repeated its argument the complaint is flawed because it calls for the court to assume all who bought the treadmills did so based on perceived sensor accuracy. But Leinenweber explained the customers alleged Precor sold a flawed product, meaning the packaging would likely mislead any consumer.
Finally, Leinenweber addressed damages, writing the issue of whether plaintiffs seek full or partial refunds is not sufficient to undercut a class action, but something that can be proved during the merits stage of the case — granting Precor a window to challenge the final damages model.
Precor is defended in the action by attorneys with the firms of Seyfarth Shaw, of Chicago, and Key & Associates, of Chicago.
The plaintiffs are represented by attorneys from the firms of Siprut P.C., of Chicago; Lite Depalma Greenberg LLC, of Newark, N.J. and Chicago; Gordon Law Offices Ltd., of Chicago; and Maurice Wutscher LLP, of Chicago.