New class action: Sears washing machine took eight hours for one load

Kelly Holleran Mar. 2, 2010, 10:49am


An Edwardsville woman has filed a putative class action lawsuit against Sears, alleging her $1,000 washing machine stopped working correctly soon after she purchased it. At the height of its problems, the washing machine would take more than eight hours to wash one load, the woman claims.

Therese Dalla Riva claims she and her husband, Edwardsville doctor James Dalla Riva, purchased a Kenmore Elite Oasis HE top loader washing machine for $1,009.39 on March 16, 2006, from the Edwardsville Sears store. The couple decided to purchase the machine based on Sears' representations that the washer is of the highest quality and allows customers to wash laundry in a more convenient, faster and efficient manner. In addition, Sears promised consumers the machine would save them water, energy and time, according to the complaint filed Feb. 25 in Madison County Circuit Court.

"Defendant represented that the machines were easy to use and that the consumers would be able to program the Machines to complete even large or bulky loads of laundry in a single, uninterrupted cycle," the suit states. "Defendant further misrepresented that the Machines and their parts were 'designed, manufactured and tested to provide years of dependable operation' and that each of the Machines 'also conserves resources and also lowers your water and energy bills,' even though it is clear that having to regularly restart a load of laundry and/or having the Machine rendered inoperable does not save water or energy and that the Machines are anything but dependable."

Mark C. Goldenberg and Thomas P. Rosenfeld of Goldenberg, Heller, Antognoli and Rowland in Edwardsville; Lori E. Andrus and Jennie Lee Anderson of Andrus and Anderson in San Francisco; and Scott R. Shepherd of Shepherd, Finkelman, Miller and Shah in Media, Penn. will be representing Therese Dalla Riva and the putative class.

Therese Dalla Riva claims she trusted the Kenmore brand and researched the product on the Internet before visiting Sears to purchase it. While at Sears, Therese Dalla Riva read the information attached to items, comparing the features and benefits of multiple machines, the complaint says. She decided to purchase the Oasis based on a pamphlet and her comparison of similar items, according to the complaint.

"These representations impressed Plaintiff and she relied on these representations when deciding to purchase the Machine, even though it was significantly more expensive than other models," the suit states.

When Sears delivered the washing machine to her home, Therese Dalla Riva reviewed the owner's manual, which made her believe she could return the product if she experienced problems with it in a certain time frame, the complaint says.

Therese Dalla Riva claims she began experiencing problems with her washing machine within one year after she purchased it. For example, the machine would stop in mid-cycle and displayed a code known as the F1 or F51 code on multiple occasions. At the time the errors occurred, Therese Dalla Riva attempted to restart the machine, but would have to wait overnight before it would complete a single load of laundry, according to the complaint.

On at least three occasions, Therese Dalla Riva attempted to call Sears to have them fix the machine while it was still under warranty, but Sears' employees told her there was nothing wrong, the suit states.

"Over the next couple of months, the problem persisted and became progressively worse," the complaint says. "Furthermore, a high pitched squealing noise would run during the entire cycle and the lid was rusting prematurely. During this time, it would take over eight hours to complete a single load of laundry."

Sears finally agreed to visit the Dalla Rivas' home in November 2007 when their washing machine refused to restart, Therese Dalla Riva claims. Within five minutes after the repairman's arrival, he diagnosed the problem as a defective electronic control board, which controls the laundry cycles, the spin cycles and the water levels, according to the complaint. But because Sears failed to repair the washing machine within the warranty period, the Dalla Rivas were forced to pay $132 to replace the control panel, the suit states.

Shortly after the replacement control panel was installed, Therese Dalla Riva continued to experience problems and saw the same errors repeatedly appear, the complaint says.

Finally, in spring 2009, Therese Dalla Riva learned of a recall on the electronic control boards. Although she claims Sears never informed her of the recall, Therese Dalla Riva contacted the store to let it know she had the control board replaced and was still experiencing problems. However, Sears offered only to mail Therese Dalla Riva a replacement board, which she would be forced to install on her own, according to the complaint. Therese Dalla Riva did not believe a replacement board would fix her problems and decided to purchase a new washing machine in September 2009 after her Kenmore stopped working every two to three days, the suit states.

"Had Defendant disclosed the defective nature of the Machine equipped with the Electronic Control Board that causes the machine to fail, stop in mid-cycle, wastes energy and time, and potentially causes damage to person and property, she would not have purchased or would have paid significantly less for her machine," the complaint says.

Therese Dalla Riva claims she is not the only one to experience problems with the Kenmore Oasis. In fact, she says the Internet is replete with complaints about the product.

"We have had numerous problems with our Kenmore Oasis washer," an anonymous Internet poster wrote. "We have had no less than 6 service calls on this machine with the infamous 'F51' error code. The mother board has been replaced twice as has the agitator and other small parts. We have refused to pay for any of these repairs due to it happening the first time within 3 months of purcahsing the machine. We have had the machine for 2 years now and would give anything to have never purchased this washing machine."

Therese Dalla Riva includes 23 similar comments in her complaint in an attempt to prove that others have experienced adverse effects with the machine.

She alleges violations of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, fraudulent concealment and nondisclosure, breach of express warranty, breach of implied warranty and unjust enrichment against Sears.

Therese Dalla Riva is seeking an order certifying the putative class, plus restitution and disgorgement. She also is seeking compensatory, consequential, monetary, punitive and incidental damages; an order requiring Sears to immediately stop its false representations; a permanent injunction requiring the store to pay for the repair and replacement of the machines; a declaration that Sears is responsible for notifying all class members of the complaint; attorneys' fees; costs; pre- and post-judgment interest; and other relief the court deems just.

Madison County Circuit Court case number: 10-L-203.

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