It’s kind of genius, when you think about it

It’s kind of genius, when you think about it: keep selling washing machines that grow mold, and then make more money by marketing special soap to kill the mold. Except that Affresh didn’t cure the mold, the court said. Whirlpool made design changes that reduced the mold problem, but even Sears, which sold the machines, says the alterations reduced the mold but didn’t eliminate it, according to another federal appeals court. Yet both Whirlpool and Sears continued to sell these washing machines, at the also astonishing number of 200,000 a year.You might think customer reviews on the Internet would put a stop to this, but don’t forget all the people who buy goods in actual stores without doing research online.

I’m no domestic goddess, but I do most of the laundry in my house, and this is a story that struck fear into my consumer heart. It made me run down to my basement to check the brand of our front-loading washing machine.It didn’t dismay me in the slightest to learn that Glazer sued, on behalf of herself and tens of thousands of other mold-plagued Whirlpool customers in Ohio, where she lives. Another lawsuit is pending that involves the machines sold by Sears.Because the moldy washing machine owners are suing in groups, their lawsuits are called class actions. This is the efficient way to go a couple of mass cases instead of a zillion individual ones.

For a problem like a moldy washing machine, where the damages for each person are relatively small, a class action is often the only way to find a plaintiff’s lawyer willing to invest time in the case. After all, however infuriating it would be to find you can’t keep your washing machine clean, you’re not going to die or lose a limb over it.The 6th Circuit, in Glazer’s case against Whirlpool, and also the 7th Circuit, in the case against Sears, each ruled that the suits should go forward as class actions. To be clear, these rulings say nothing about who will win they’re just allowing Glazer and the other disappointed washing machine owners to get into court as a group.

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