Lawyer’s win big

Lawyer’s win big
Date September 17, 2004
Section(s) Columnists
By Peter Hussmann


Let’s start with money — $8.25 million to be exact.

That’s how much the three law firms — in Philadelphia, St. Louis and San Francisco — stand to split amongst themselves as counsel in the proposed settlement agreement recently announced by Maytag in the class action lawsuit filed on behalf of early generation Neptune washing machine owners.

The suit claimed that design flaws in the first models produced at the Newton facility resulted in the growth of excessive mold and mildew inside the machines, as well as wax motor and circuit board failures that left the washers inoperable. Though Maytag denies the claim — and says it attempted to fix all the problems brought to their attention by early Neptune owners — the corporation said it decided the best course of action was to agree to the proposed settlement that allows affected owners the opportunity to recoup any costs incurred to fix or replace their machines. In addition, the corporate spokesperson noted the design problem was rectified in early 2000 and does not impact the current machines being produced, even though they’ve allowed any Neptune purchaser to August 2004 to be a part of the class by notifying them of their rights under the terms of the settlement.

But let’s get back to the lawyers and the potential award they’ll receive should an Illinois court allow the settlement to go forward at a hearing set for late November. Many people say that they are nothing but opportunists using a skewed legal system that let’s them make a ton of money off corporations.

While the Neptune owner who might have experienced the problem might get their couple hundred dollar repair bill returned — should they have retained all the proper repair documentation — the lawyers will be investing their earnings in a new boat. And we’re not talking about a bass boat here. (There were several Web sites set up by the law firms involved in the class action suit asking Neptune owners who had experienced problems to log on to their sites and report the problems experienced.)

But let’s look at the other side.

The Neptune, when it was first introduced, drew a $1,000 price tag, no small amount. Consumers plop down such amounts because they deem it to be a superior machine, one that will provide superior service. When it prematurely fails, it makes owners mad, especially if your new silk blouse now reeks of mold.

While Maytag says it tried to rectify the situations owners experienced, many apparently weren’t satisfied. Internet consumer chat boards have been full of gripes about the Neptune for some time. Most were not happy campers. So they did the American thing: They sued.

But who can blame them? They should have. A Cadillac-priced machine is supposed to work as advertised.

It’s a good thing Maytag is standing up, taking the heat and putting its money where its mouth is concerning its dependability reputation. Nip it in the bud before things spin (or don’t) out of control.

It will be interesting to see what the court does with the lawyer fee proposal at the settlement hearing. Will members of the class complain about the proposed fee agreement? Stay tuned.


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