In a decidedly uncharacteristic move, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the appeals of three class-action lawsuits yesterday, each related to allegedly defective washing machines prone to mold accumulation. The court's refusal means claims against Whirlpool, Sears, and Bosch will be allowed to proceed in lower courts.
As we reported last summer, the issue stems from the water-tight rubber gasket that seals the doors of front-load Kenmore and Bosch washing machines. (Whirlpool is involved because it built the affected Kenmore front-loaders.) These seals are anti-fungal when the door is left open and the gasket is exposed to fresh air, but when users close the doors—a habit that's hard to break—it leads to fungal growth and nasty smells.
The three companies maintain that only a small fraction of consumers have been affected by the issue, and that a bad smell isn't a cause for a lawsuit. In a statement to Reuters, Whirlpool said that "the vast majority of class members have not been harmed and never will be." Whirlpool also referred to the lawsuits as an "attack" on American manufacturing.
Since the underwhelming first generation of front-loaders hit the U.S. market in the early 2000s, we've seen some big changes in the laundry landscape. Whirlpool has added a gasket-drying fan in its high-end machines, Kenmore front-loaders are now mostly sourced from LG, and Bosch abandoned its lineup of full-size front-loaders entirely. Frigidaire and Electrolux washers feature gaskets impregnated with a fragrant substance that also inhibits fungal growth. And generally speaking, the front-loading machines we've tested have proven superior to their top-loading counterparts when it comes to stain removal, speed, and efficiency.
According to Bloomberg, Whirlpool will reimburse Sears for any damages resulting from the the case.
For further background on the Supreme Court's decision, see this piece in the Chicago Tribune.