Good news, everyone. We have some developments concerning proposed class action litigation centered on a few particularly troublesome refrigerators. (No, not those refrigerators, but close.)
This week, Whirlpool Corporation agreed to a deal worth approximately $21 million to end a proposed class action lawsuit filed over an alleged drain tube defect in certain French-door, bottom-mount refrigerators, i.e. the kind with the freezer on the bottom, that reportedly caused significant water leakage.
Here’s a breakdown of how we got here and what the proposed settlement, if given the OK by a judge, will likely mean for consumers.
What are the specifics of the deal?
The refrigerators covered by the proposed settlement—the “class refrigerators”— were made by Whirlpool and were equipped with drain tube parts numbered W10210987, W10210988, W10309238, W10344401, W10344402, W105585186, W10588598, W10604169, PS8691807 and/or 2887289. These refrigerators may have been sold under the Amana, Jenn-Air, KitchenAid or Whirlpool brand names and featured French doors and bottom-mount freezers.
Those covered by the settlement—the “class members”—include all consumers in the United States and its territories who:
Bought one of the aforementioned class refrigerators new;
Acquired one of the class refrigerators as part of the purchase or remodel of a home; or
Received a class refrigerator as a gift or donation. (The fridge must not have been used by anyone else after it was purchased and before being gifted to the class member.)
The roughly 1.7 million refrigerators covered by the settlement were made by Whirlpool between 2009 and 2013.
Whirlpool has agreed to reimburse class members for out-of-pocket expenses that went toward repairing or replacing drain tubes linked to leaking water/ice buildup within five years of purchase.
Whirlpool has also agreed to maintain its “Special Project for Freezing Events” through December 31, 2021. This project, settlement documents say, allows for the free replacement of P-trap parts (Whirlpool Part No. W10619951) for class members who, within five years of purchase and as reported to Whirlpool by a service technician, experienced ice buildup and/or water leaking onto the floor of their class refrigerators due to drain obstruction.
Where can I submit a claim? What proof do I need?
We’re not quite at that stage of the settlement process yet. The settlement detailed on this page is still subject to both preliminary and final approval. Upon the settlement’s approval, notices containing instructions on how to submit a claim will be sent out.
Certain details, however, are available through the settlement documents. Claim forms will have to be submitted within 90 days of the yet-to-be-determined notice date, and include:
Both a valid class refrigerator model and serial number;
Proof of purchase, such as receipts, items on credit card statements, and/or warranty registrations. Class members who have no such proof will have to submit a claim documenting their purchase under oath, after which Whirlpool will then attempt to determine the date of purchase through its own product registration data;
Proof that the claimant had issues with water leakage and ice buildup, such as a Whirlpool service ticket, service estimate or service receipt. If a claimant has no such proof available, they must then submit a claim documenting this information under oath.
Proofthat the claimant paid for a repair consisting of the replacement of the duckbill drain tube with the installation of a P-trap part because of water leakage/freezing issues and that this repair was performed by a service technician within five years of purchase. Those without documentary proof of a repair will be subject to the claims administrator’s analysis of Whirlpool’s warranty claims data to determine if a repair was in fact made.
Class members who can check off the boxes above may be eligible to receive up to $150 reimbursement. Here’s the breakdown of what they may receive, up to this limit:
For repairs performed within one to three years of purchase: 100 percent reimbursement for repairs.
For repairs performed four years after purchase: 100 percent reimbursement for parts and 65 percent reimbursement for labor costs.
For repairs performed 5+ years after purchase: 100 percent reimbursement for parts and 50 percent reimbursement for labor costs.
It’s important to note that class members who have previously received any form of compensation from Whirlpool for the water/ice issue will receive reduced payouts from the settlement. These class members’ settlement amounts will be reduced in accordance with any cash payment or refund, or any discount or coupon applied toward the purchase of a new fridge, that was given by Whirlpool.
But what if my Whirlpool fridge starts acting up after notices get sent out?
If you’re a class member and you start experiencing water leaking/ice buildup issues with your Whirlpool fridge after notices go out, you’re also covered under the proposed settlement (emphasis ours):
Such claimants will be directed to contact Whirlpool through a dedicated toll-free number no later than 90 days after first experiencing a Freezing Event to report it and request repair service. Whirlpool will schedule service with a Service Technician and pay parts and labor costs to repair the Freezing Event per the schedule described in §§ II.B supra. Any claimant who fails to notify Whirlpool of the Freezing Event via the toll-free number or fails to do so within 90 days of the Freezing Event will not be entitled to compensation. Class Members making claims for Future Freezing Events must submit the same documentary proof of qualifying Class Refrigerator and purchase date, or declaration of inability to provide such proof to prompt a search of Whirlpool’s product registration database, as Class Members who are making claims for Past Freezing Events.”
Is there a settlement website with more information?
Not yet. A settlement website is usually set up once the deal is given the preliminary OK from a judge.
What led to the settlement?
The motion for preliminary approval of the settlement explains that Whirlpool in late 2009 and early 2010 began selling combination refrigerator-freezers with newly designed freezer drain tubes that allowed the company to produce a “cost-reduced machine compartment.” The new tubes were designed to channel defrosted water from the bottom freezer into a drain pan as part of a daily defrost cycle. These tubes can be found, the document continues, deep within the affected refrigerators, both “out of sight and inaccessible” to consumers.
In November 2015, a California consumer filed a proposed class action in Santa Clara Superior Court over what she claimed was a defect with Whirlpool-manufactured bottom-freezer refrigerators. According to the lawsuit, which was removed to California’s Northern District about a month after it was filed, the drain tubes (pictured) in certain model Whirlpool fridges were prone to ice blockage, which could cause water to overflow and leak.
The “duckbill” design of the Whirlpool drain tubes supposedly allowed for the component to become clogged with debris that could dam the flow of defrosted water from the freezer into the drain pan. Trapped water could freeze and create a solid plug of ice that, over time, would continue to accumulate more water before eventually causing water to leak out of the bottom of the freezer, into the refrigerator compartment and onto the floor, the suit said.
According to court documents, the settlement is the result of three rounds of motions to dismiss, formal and informal discovery, and two sessions with different mediators that preceded “months of negotiations as to the final terms.” Though the parties involved in the litigation initially reached a settlement in May 2018, the court overseeing the suit stayed the proceedings (i.e., put the case on hold) pending the Ninth Circuit Court’s en bancreview of its decision regarding a settlement in a case affecting Hyundai and Kia owners, focusing in particular on choice-of-law analysis pertaining to consumer protection claims. The Ninth Circuit published its 7-4 opinion on June 6, 2019, reinstating the $210 million Hyundai/Kia settlement and effectively giving the parties handling the Whirlpool refrigerator litigation the green light to submit their deal for approval.
While we’re here, are there any updates on the Samsung ice maker case?
Not at the moment. A mediator was selected in April, and a resolution is hopefully being hashed out behind closed doors.
The motion for preliminary approval of the Whirlpool settlement can be read below.