In a closely watched case, an Ohio federal jury rejected the plaintiffs’ allegations.
Retained by Wheeler Trigg O’Donnell
A federal jury in a bellwether product-defect class action rejected the plaintiffs’ allegations that some front-loading washers manufactured by Whirlpool Corporation from 2001 to 2009 suffered from a design defect. The jury found that the washers were not negligently designed, and that Whirlpool did not breach any implied warranty.
Wheeler Trigg O’Donnell retained Professor Timothy Bresnahan and Cornerstone Research on behalf of Whirlpool to address damages issues in the case. Other law firms for the defense included Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough and Bartlit Beck Herman Palenchar & Scott.
The court certified the class for liability despite the fact that less than 5 percent of buyers reported the alleged mold-related problems at issue. Because the court did not certify the class for damages, the case was nominally about damages for two named plaintiffs. However, the plaintiffs’ experts asserted in their reports and at trial that each member of the purchaser class was entitled to damages arising from price elevation or reduced willingness to pay because Whirlpool had allegedly failed to disclose the mold-related user instructions to buyers at the point of sale.
Professor Bresnahan testified at trial and in two depositions, and submitted two expert reports. He opined that the plaintiffs’ theory of damages had no link to the alleged washer design defect (indeed, the plaintiffs claimed all buyers were entitled to damages regardless of whether the alleged defect ever manifested itself), that the plaintiffs’ nondisclosure claims were demonstrably false, and that real-world evidence contradicted the plaintiffs’ survey-based conclusion as to consumers’ reduced willingness to pay.
The case was closely watched due to its potential influence on the framework for class certification following Wal-Mart Stores Inc. v. Dukes and Comcast Corp. v. Behrend. The Whirlpool case went to trial after the U.S. Supreme Court vacated the circuit court’s class certification opinion in light of Comcast, only to have the circuit court reinstate its earlier ruling on remand.
A jury in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio found Whirlpool not liable both for the alleged defect in design and for purportedly breaching its implied warranty.