Whirlpool has been slammed with a surge of lawsuits since government testing demonstrated that the consumer products carrying the “Energy Star” listing did not deserve the title. Now the company wants Congress to ban the lawsuits and is threatening to abandon the Environmental Protection Agency program unless it is insulated from liability. A new bill, introduced by a Republican congressman whose district houses Whirlpool factories, would prohibit class-action lawsuits if the E.P.A. devised an alternative remedy. According to supporters of the bill, the E.P.A. could reimburse customers for products that did not live up to their “Energy Star” labeling.
Class-actions are one way that consumers can take action against negligent, unscrupulous or harmful companies. The new legislation has naturally drawn criticism from consumer advocates who recognize that the court system is the only way for individual plaintiffs and large consumer classes to take action against corporate defendants. Stripping away the consumer right to take a manufacturer to court will leave corporations unaccountable, even if they are liable for misleading or cheating buyers.
Energy Star is a system of rating, created in 1992, to help consumers identify which products are the most energy efficient. Products given the Energy Star classification consist of a host of household goods, including televisions, washing machines, refrigerators, light bulbs, and computer products. The system has been criticized over the past few years since auditors began testing the legitimacy of the label. Some companies were even able to cheat the testing procedures. According to a report in the New York Times, LG disconnected its ice maker during the efficiency test. In other cases, manufacturers ran a test model and then changed the parts, which increased energy consumption. Other manufacturers changed the raw parts materials.
Since 2010, Congress has taken action to improve the Energy Star testing and labeling procedures to ensure compliance. To achieve the Energy Star label, products must be checked by an external and certified laboratory. Products are also subject to being pulled from the floor or shelves and tested on the spot. Since the new testing procedures went into place, dozens of products failed and were disqualified from being certified as “Energy Star.” Since many products were no longer in compliance, companies, including Whirlpool, have faced nationwide class-action lawsuits.
Consumer advocates agree that the E.P.A. cannot be the sole measure of enforcement against unscrupulous corporations. For the majority of consumers, taking action through the court system is the only want to hold companies accountable and to ensure that companies are held to industry standards. Class-actions give consumers the ability to recover damages, including the extra money lost due to higher electricity costs.
Consumers in Minnesota and nationwide should be informed of their rights and options under product liability law. If you believe that you have suffered financial losses because a manufacturing defect, improper labeling, or warranty issue, we can help. Our legal team at Wanta Thome PLC wants to hear from you. We are experienced in handling complex class actions and other consumer rights cases. For more information consumer protection and defective products liability, please call 612-252-3570.