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Owners of foul-smelling washing machines granted class certification by 7th Circuit

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago has granted class certification to owners of odor-emitting Kenmore washers, allowing their lawsuit against Sears, Roebuck and Co. to go forward.   

In one ruling on two separate class actions against Sears, the 7th Circuit reversed the denial of certification of class regarding a mold claim and affirmed the grant of class certification regarding the control unit claim. The lead plaintiff in Larry Butler, et al., individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated v. Sears, Roebuck And Co., Nos. 11-8029, 12-8030, is a resident of Indiana.

Both class action claims arise from alleged defects in the Kenmore-brand Sears washing machines. The “mold claim” complains of a defect that causes a mass of microbes to form in the machine’s drum that creates mold which emits bad odors. The “control unit claim” complains of a malfunction in a computer device that causes the machine to stop even though nothing is wrong.

The 7th Circuit accepted the appeals in order to clarify the concept of “predominance” in class action litigation.  

For the mold claim, Sears contended since different models had different defects, the common questions of fact about the mold problem and its consequences do not predominate over individual questions of fact.

Conversely, the 7th Circuit found that the basic question in the litigation was “Were the machines defective in permitting mold to accumulate and generate noxious odors?” And this question is common to the entire mold class even though the answer may vary with the differences in the design of the machine. The individual questions are the amount of damages owed to particular owners of the washing machines.

In considering the question of predominance, the court found the class action procedure would be efficient not only in cost but also in efficacy. The stakes in an individual case would be too small to justify the expense of suing which means that denial of class certification would preclude any relief.

For the control unit claim, the court ruled it is more efficient to resolve the question of whether the washing machines were defective in a single proceeding than for it to be litigated separately in hundreds of different trials.

 

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