Though the sitting Supreme Court has a track record that is decidedly pro-business when it comes to class action lawsuits, it has declined to weigh in on a case that would have wide ranging ramifications on the ease with which consumers can sue businesses.
On Feb. 24 the SCOTUS rejected challenges to an ongoing lawsuit surrounding the growth of mold in washing machines, in which defendants sought to place new restrictions on class action procedure. The rejection could open up the possibility for a wider range of people to be included within a class, and even the possibility of different types of class actions relating to a single issue.
Plaintiffs contend that a design flaw in certain brands of front-loading washing machines caused excessive mold growth, compromising the usefulness of the machines and undermining the premium cost consumers may have paid for them. While the case in question centered on a lawsuit brought by consumers against Whirlpool Corp., a number of similar suits are currently pending against Sears and Bosch as well. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also backed the appeal.
While defendants in this case had hoped to capitalize on similar decisions like those in cases involving WalMart Stores and the Comcast Group that came in 2011, the were unable to gain a win solely on the Court’s track record.
Manufacturers say that the design flaw impacted only a small percentage of machines, and that many of the consumers incorporated into the class action suit had joined because of the possibility of a problem rather than a potentially damaging event.
Bloomberg reports that Sears was concerned that an initial appellate court decision “opens the door to class actions based on any mass-produced product’s failure to meet expectations of a handful of consumers, no matter how few other buyers had the same problem.” The decision by the SCOTUS could very well solidify those concerns.
For more on the developing landscape of class action lawsuits check out these stories: