Electrolux, the company behind the Frigidaire line of home appliances, was unable to get a judge to wash away parts of a class action lawsuit, accusing the company of selling dishwashers customers allege can spontaneously combust.
In an opinion issued Aug. 28 in Chicago, federal Judge John Z. Lee rejected Electrolux Home Products’ motion to dismiss parts of a complaint from a dozen plaintiffs from seven states who said their dishwashers “unexpectedly overheated, causing fires and flooding.”
Electrolux tried to get Lee to dismiss claims of breach of implied warranty of merchantability and various state liability and warranty laws in Washington, Indiana, California and Ohio. Other states involved in the complaint are Illinois, Pennsylvania and Virginia. The plaintiffs also alleged liability based on design defect, negligence, failure to warn and fraudulent concealment.
The best way to keep a dishwasher running well is to not abuse it. | Joanna Bourne / Flickr
According to Lee’s opinion, Electrolux is the world’s second-largest appliance maker in terms of units sold. Among its portfolio is the Frigidaire line of residential dishwashers. The plaintiffs in this action said the electrical system of their dishwashers overheated, sparking fires or burning holes through the bottom of the dishwasher tub, which caused water to leak to the floor below. That flooding increases fire risk because it brings water into contact with exposed electrical components, the lawsuits said.
The plaintiffs further said a defective heating element ignited dishwashers, causing smoke and fire damage or burning a hole in the tub that led to flooding and mold. All the problems materialized before the units reach their expected nine- to 13-year lifespan.
According to plaintiffs, Electrolux issued product recalls in Australia in 2007 and 2013 and in the United Kingdom in 2007, but continued to sell the products in the U.S. and continued to advertise them as safe, including a delay start feature allowing them to start a wash cycle while homeowners are asleep or away from home. They said customers have no way of knowing about the defect, and also allege Electrolux refused to provide relief outside of asking customers to pay to ship the units to a factory or paying for a repair visit.
Electrolux argued its expressly limited one-year warranty exempts it from the breach of implied warranty claim from residents of all but the state of Washington, where it sought protection of the statute of limitations. Lee rejected the argument on several grounds, saying the paperwork the company provides with its appliances do not satisfy legal requirements to justify dismissal and “are likely outside the scope of the court’s inquiry and the pleading stage.”
Further, the documents the company cited in its defense “are not central to plaintiffs’ complaint” and, even if they were, the claim would still survive because allegations the warranty was unconscionable “involves a disputed issue of fact that cannot be resolved at this stage.”
In reviewing the Washington state claims, Lee noted plaintiff Leasa Brittenham alleged fraudulent concealment that would establish tolling the statute of limitations, and those considerations should be made at trial, not in a dismissal motion. Similar reasoning played out with respect to other state law claims, as Lee reiterated that certain defendants “claim that Electrolux actively concealed their dishwasher’s defect.”
The plaintiffs argued they would not have bought the dishwashers — or at least not at full price — had they known about the defects that gave rise to the 2007 and 2013 international recalls.
“The complaint specifies that the dishwashers were sold with a latent defect in the electrical system and explains how this defect can result in injuries like” the ones the plaintiffs suffered, Lee wrote. “These allegations are further supported by a collection of consumer complaints documenting the same types of problems and injuries that plaintiffs allege.”
Plaintiffs in the cases were represented by the firms of Berger & Montague P.C., of Philadelphia; Greg Coleman Law P.C., of Knoxville, Tenn.; and Wexler Wallace LLP, of Chicago.
Electrolux is defended by the firm Wheeler Trigg O’Donnell LLP, of Denver; and Goldberg Segalla LLP, of Chicago.