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Supreme Court OKs Washer Suits

Washington — The U.S. Supreme Court has cleared the way for a trio of class-action lawsuits to proceed against Sears, Whirlpool and BSH over allegedly mold-prone washers.

The court yesterday refused to hear appeals by the three companies, which are accused of making and selling millions of front-load washers that allegedly developed mold or musty odors.

The Sears suit, which represents 800,000 customers in six states, cites a “uniform design defect that causes [the washers] to accumulate mold.” The Whirlpool case covers 200,000 consumers in Ohio, and the separate Bosch suit stems from four states.

Sears and Whirlpool contend that the problem affects only a small number of washers, and that consumers are advised of the configuration’s unique care requirements. BSH, which produces Bosch brand washers, offered no comment.

Whirlpool introduced front-loaders into the U.S. market in 2002 with its Duet line, and contract manufactures Kenmore-branded models for the retailer.

Sears said similar suits have been filed against at least eight manufacturers or retailers covering virtually every front-load washer made in the last decade. Majap merchants privately acknowledge that all front-load models are prone to mold, and consumers are advised to keep washer doors open until the tub is dry and to keep gasket drain-holes clear of lint.

Front-load washers have been popular with consumers, manufacturers and retailers for their large capacity, low water usage, and high price points and margins. But their low height — which forces users to bend or kneel or purchase a separate pedestal — and their tendency toward mold and vibration, has contributed to the rapid growth of new high-efficiency top-load models.