The lawsuits filed against Goodman Amana over allegedly faulty coils in some of their HVAC systems have all been dismissed. If you haven’t been closely following the case, this may come as quite the surprise. There have been hundreds of complaints made about the coils ruining air conditioning units and costing their owners plenty of cash for repairs.
How could a case obviously affecting so many people be so easily disregarded by the courts? Let’s get to the bottom of it, shall we?
What Went Down Exactly?
Ok. So here’s a quick recap of the litigation and how it went down. Several lawsuits were filed claiming that since 2006, Goodman manufactured and sold air conditioner units with faulty evaporator and condenser coils. According to the lawsuits, the coils were too thin and couldn’t stand up to the pressure the units regularly put out. This supposedly would cause corrosion and cracks to form in the coils, which could eventually lead to leaking refrigerant (Freon). As you can imagine (or maybe even experienced yourself), those repair costs can really add up.
Now, the lawsuits claimed that the defect was widespread, affecting as many as 80% of the units coming from one specific dealer – but the courts saw it a bit differently.
Why Were the Cases Dismissed?
Simply put, the court found that there weren’t enough people affected by the alleged defect to warrant a class action being certified. It sounds crazy since we’ve seen so many complaints about the same problem, but this is essentially how the court saw it:
Assume 50,000 people (just an example) reported that their evaporator coils were defective and had to have them repaired. Yes, 50,000 is a huge number, especially when talking about defective units; that statement by itself makes a class action worth going after. But, upon closer look, those 50,000 defective units were only a fraction of the total amount (let’s say 5 million) of units made and sold by Goodman. If the number of failing HVAC systems only represents one percent, can all the units really be considered defective? For most products, one percent is an acceptable rate of failure.
You may be asking, then, why the class action couldn’t simply cover those who had the defective units. That brings us to our next point...
The Ascertainability Issue
By their nature, class actions are meant to be efficient. Well, at least more efficient than each individual class member going to court themselves.
That’s why a potential class’ ascertainability plays a big part in whether a case can be certified. Essentially, the ascertainability of a class action deals with how courts would be able to determine (or ascertain) who would be included in or excluded from a potential settlement.
The Goodman Amana cases all had similar definitions of who would be covered by a potential settlement. Here’s an example from one of the cases filed in Ohio:
“All persons and/or entities in Ohio who purchased air conditioners, air handlers and/or heat pumps (collectively, the ‘Goodman Products’) manufactured by Goodman since 2007, or who own a home or other structure in which the Goodman Products were installed since 2007, and who suffered damages related to defective design and manufacturing of the Goodman Products.”
Now, finding everyone who bought one of the units in Ohio wouldn’t be a huge issue since big companies usually keep sales records and attorneys have access to that information during the discovery phase. But finding those with a unit that had the exact defect alleged by the suit (50,000 out of 5 million units) starts to look like searching for the proverbial needle in the haystack.
Each person who bought a unit would have to be evaluated individually to determine if theirs was defective, if they paid for repairs and, if so, how much. It gets even more convoluted when you consider that there were different problems that resulted in the leaks and that people had to have a variety of different repairs done with each of those priced differently. It’s simply too many variables. The entire process would be a massive undertaking that would end up costing a tremendous amount of time and money to even make a dent in resolving people’s claims.
Here’s some more information about class action ascertainability if you’re interested.
What Happens Next?
Unfortunately, there isn’t much left to be done. With the litigation over, there aren’t as many options available to those who has been having problems with their evaporator coils. Most attorneys won’t take individual cases where the damage amount is low (e.g., $1000 for HVAC repairs), but it is your legal right to contact local counsel if you feel you want to pursue the matter further.
In the end, the class action system needs to have certain checks and balances in place. If it doesn’t, then the courts will be clogged up with class actions they have no hope of resolving and they would be forced to spend time and money on cases that should be dismissed outright.
Sadly, a case that could actually help people has to slip away sometimes.
I’m sorry to those of you who have been affected by this case. I’ve personally heard from many of you and I wish you the best of luck with this going forward.