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Electrolux Fails to Melt Defective Fridge Claims

CAMDEN, N.J. (CN) - A federal judge refused to dismiss most claims that the appliance giant Electrolux knowingly sold refrigerators with faulty ice makers.

In a consolidated class action, New Jersey and New York consumers accuse the Swedish company of intentionally selling refrigerators with defective ice makers that malfunction, leak water and damage other property.

The plaintiffs claim that Electrolux knew about the defects in February 2008, but did not stop manufacturing or selling implicated refrigerators. Though Electrolux repaired ice makers under its one-year express warranty, it allegedly knew that the repairs would be temporary and only last long enough to get past the one-year mark.

In its attempt to dismiss the claims, Electrolux argued that the New Jersey Products Liability Act subsumes the claims for fraud and implied warranty because those claims allege a defective product that has caused damage to other property.

U.S. District Judge Noel Hillman concluded otherwise.

"In this case, plaintiffs allege that the defective ice makers failed to produce ice," he wrote. "They also allege that the ice makers leaked water into the refrigerators causing the electrical components to short out and malfunction, which caused the refrigerators to warm to unsafe temperatures. This alleged harm is physical damage to the product itself, and it is explicitly excluded from the NJ Products Liability Act."

Though the plaintiffs also claim that the leaky ice makers caused food to spoil and damaged their flooring, walls and other personal property, Hillman still would not apply the state law in question, abbreviated as NJPLA.

"Electrolux's attempt to transform plaintiff's claims into product defect tort claims is unavailing," Hillman wrote. "Even though spoiled food and damage to floors, walls, and other property do not strictly constitute harm to the refrigerator itself, they are consequential, anticipated economic losses resulting from the defect in the refrigerator."

The judge also shot down Electrolux's attack on the plaintiffs' standing and said it is too early to determine class worthiness for other Electrolux model numbers.

"Consequently, Electrolux may renew its argument regarding plaintiffs' lack of standing if or when plaintiffs move for class certification," Hillman wrote.

Electrolux also failed to convince the court that the fraud claims "seek to expand the express limited warranty to improperly require Electrolux to guarantee that the refrigerators will work forever."

"It does not appear from the court's reading of plaintiffs' complaint that success on their CFA claims would, as Electrolux argues, require Electrolux to warrant that its refrigerators will last forever," Hilllman wrote, abbreviating the Consumer Fraud Act. "Plaintiffs' CFA claims are much narrower."

Though Hillman upheld all of the New Jersey claims, he did take issue with some of the claims from the lone New York consumer, Irma Lederer.

"With regard to Lederer's claim that Electrolux created a "free from defects" warranty, that claims fails, as such a promise conflicts with the express language of the limited warranty," Hillman wrote.

"Consequently, Lederer may proceed on her breach of express warranty claim, but not for a 'free from defects' warranty claim, and not for a express warranty of future performance claim," he added.

Hillman also dismissed Lederer's claim for breach of implied warranty, finding that she failed to present "an allegation of privity or that she was an intended beneficiary of the manufacturer's contract with another entity."

The 38-page ruling concludes with Hillman finding it premature to appoint interim class counsel.

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