Appliances & Products
The average home has dozens of appliances and other household products. Items such as microwaves, cookware, refrigerators, ovens, vacuums, coffee makers, blenders, hair dryers, electric toothbrushes, and irons make everyday tasks easier. Newer smart appliances and household products that integrate with connected devices offer even greater convenience and functionality.
Most households spend hundreds of dollars per year on appliances and household products. But for many consumers, the convenience of a new product is overshadowed by a defect. Some products don’t work as intended and aren’t worth their purchase price.
Others have defects that pose dangers from routine use. Appliances and other household products may also be labeled with false or misleading information that imposes hidden costs on buyers.
Defective and mislabeled products are not always recalled in a timely manner—if at all. State and federal regulators often lack the authority or resources to intercede on behalf of consumers, who are left to fend for themselves against the big companies that make appliances.
Milberg’s Appliances & Products Practice Group
Milberg’s Defective Appliances & Products Practice Group represents consumers in cases involving manufacturers that engage in fraudulent or deceptive marketing or sell defective or unsafe products.
Milberg attorneys have established themselves as leaders in consumer products litigation by consistently advancing cases that create new case law, being appointed to leadership roles in defective product litigation, and crafting meaningful class settlement benefits. Our attorneys regularly file lawsuits that result in real benefits for our clients and serve as an important check on powerful companies like Samsung, LG, Whirlpool, Electrolux, and Generac.
Not Built to Last
Planned obsolescence is the concept that consumer goods are designed to quickly break or become outdated. A purposefully shortened product lifespan ensures that consumers must continually buy replacements. In this scenario, consumers lose and manufacturers win, as faster product turnover results in greater producer profits.
As recently as the 1970s, appliances were built to last for 30 to 50 years. Nowadays, they require replacement roughly every 10 years. The typical warranty period is only one or two years. In fact, many products aren’t designed to be repaired in the first place.
The shortened lifespan of modern appliances is attributable to market monopolization by just a handful of major brands and parts that are designed to fail. These issues persist in the face of consumers paying more for appliances due to appliance price inflation.
The U.S. household appliances market was valued at $52 billion in 2021 and is expected to grow 6.5% per year from 2022 to 2030.
Bad Out of the Box
Planned obsolescence is not the only issue plaguing appliances and household products. Aside from early failure, appliances sometimes don’t work at all, don’t work as promised, are mislabeled, or have another design or marketing defect.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is the federal agency in charge of protecting the public against dangerous products. CPSC has broad jurisdiction over thousands of types of consumer products, including household appliances. The agency is tasked with issuing consumer product standards, identifying potential product hazards, educating the public about known hazardous products, and working with manufacturers to take voluntary corrective action to fix issues.
Among its enforcement powers, CPSC can ban products, impose civil fines, and refer criminal cases to the Justice Department. It also has the power to force involuntary recalls, although this is rare and procedurally difficult.
Consumer product recalls are on the rise. According to the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), the CPSC issued nearly one-third more recall announcements in 2022 compared to 2021. The number of recalls announced in 2022 was the most since 2016. Appliances recalled included gas ranges, blenders, air fryers, freezers, and refrigerators.
CPSC Has Limited Powers
The CPSC is a small agency, with just 500 full-time employees and a $200 million budget. It is responsible for overseeing more than 15,000 types of products made by global corporations that have tens of thousands of employees and billions of dollars in annual revenues. Given this resource discrepancy between watchdog and the watched, there are bound to be enforcement gaps.
Despite its best efforts to safeguard consumers from dangerous products, PIRG’s research indicates that the CPSC, underfunded and hamstrung by Congress, can only do so much. In a 2023 report, PIRG found that CPSC doesn’t have the budget to fully protect Americans from dangerous products and lacks the authority to immediately warn consumers or issue recalls without manufacturer consent.
Often, it takes months or even years for a recall to be issued when products are connected to serious safety incidents, says PIRG. And even when a recall is finally announced, manufacturers fall silent about the news. They’re not required to run TV ads telling consumers to stop using a defective item and rarely mention recalls on their social media.
CPSC relies in large part on consumer complaints to identify unsafe products. Yet PIRG found that, in many cases, recall action was not forthcoming even after a flood of complaints.
Defective Products Not Always Dangerous
CPSC deals with products that pose a risk of bodily injury. But many products have advertising or marketing defects that, while not physically dangerous to consumers, can cause monetary harm.
Competing with other companies for limited marketing share, appliance manufacturers make claims about their products to differentiate them. For example, a company may claim that its ovens are “built in the USA,” that consumers don’t have to rinse or scrape dishes before putting them in the dishwasher, or make false or exaggerated claims about an appliance’s energy efficiency.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulates truth in advertising on the federal level. Like CPSC, the FTC tries to get companies to take remedial action before it slaps them with civil penalties. But also like CPSC, the FTC is outgunned and outmanned by the companies it oversees.
FTC shares its enforcement authority with state attorneys general, which can file false advertising lawsuits against companies on behalf of consumers. But consumers have no say over whether their complaints to FTC or state AGs will result in legal action that can produce monetary damages, restitution, or injunctive relief.
In many instances, consumers are better served by filing class action lawsuits against companies engaging in false advertising.
Notable Cases and Recent Recoveries
- Cleveland, et al. v. Whirlpool Corporation: Recovered approximately $15 million-$21 million in extended service plan benefits and out-of-pocket reimbursement benefits for settlement class members who purchased certain Whirlpool dishwashers with diverter shaft seal leaks.
- All-Clad Metalcrafters, LLC, Cookware Marketing and Sales Practices Litigation: Defective cookware and mislabeling litigation settled claims that All-Clad advertised its cookware as being “dishwasher safe” but was damaged when cleaned in the dishwasher. The settlement provided millions of dollars in replacement product value.
- Shawn Roberts et al v. Electrolux Home Products Inc: Milberg attorneys achieved a $35.5 million settlement in a defective product class action against Electrolux Home Products for allegedly selling dangerous and defective clothes dryers.
Our attorneys perform substantial investigative work up front to set our cases apart from similar competitor filings. We also take great strides to maintain close contact with clients, whose unique experiences and insights bring value to the case, the class, and the settlement table.
Since 1965, Milberg—the firm that pioneered class action litigation—has filed thousands of class actions, recovered billions of dollars for our clients, and served as a leading voice for consumer justice.