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Moldy washing machine class action allowed to proceed

A case involving a potentially defective design of washing machines has been allowed to proceed as a class action by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court refused to hear an appeal by the manufacturer, who was attempting to prevent class certification, which would effectively prevent lawsuits based on the alleged design defect of some front-loading washing machines that become moldy and emit odors.

Class actions are particularly important for consumer products, because without them, manufacturers could produce defective products, but would practically be immune to litigation, because there would not be enough money at stake to make it worthwhile for an individual to sue.

A class action allows thousands or millions of consumers to band together to sue a manufacturer for their faulty, dangerous or defective products.

The moldy washing machine case had not even made it to the question of whether the design was defective, but merely whether the similarity of the problems consumers had encountered was great enough to warrant class certification.

Class actions are criticized by activist conservative judges and commentators because they often produce limited damage payouts for consumers.

However, an important function of these cases is as a deterrent to companies who make a business decision that they cynically know is defective.

Class actions function as a check on the power of billion dollar multinational corporations, who are subject to few other controls; the threat of hundred million dollar damage settlements are one of the few mechanisms that they recognize and may constrain their behavior.

Source: Slate.com, "The Case of the Moldy Washing Machines, Again," Emily Bazelon, February 24, 2014

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