Inexperienced Expert Scuttles Moldy Dishwasher Suit

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By Bruce Kaufman

Sept. 21 — A mechanical engineer with experience designing commercial laundry facilities wasn't qualified to testify in a putative class action alleging design defects in a Frigidaire washing machine encouraged the formation of mold, the Northern District of Ohio ruled Sept. 17.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio excluded plaintiffs' expert Richard J. Hallowell because he never received training or education about the standards governing washing-machine design, consulted with a manufacturer or designer of a washing machine, or designed any component of a washing machine.

Hallowell also employed an unreliable methodology because he couldn't say whether the substances he detected in plaintiff Maureen Huffman's washing machine was mold. Rather than performing any testing, the court said the expert's “know it when I see it or smell it” test wasn't a reliable methodology for an engineer with no background in mycology or biology.

Judge James G. Carr granted summary judgment to defendant manufacturer Electrolux Home Products.

The court reasoned the plaintiff couldn't proceed without expert evidence on her claim that the 2008 Frigidaire LFT 2940 machine was defective because it wasn't self-cleaning, thus allowing mold to grow inside the front-loading machine.

To proceed under the Ohio Product Liability Act, Huffman needed an expert to establish there was a feasible alternative design available to Electrolux.

Similarly, for breach of warranty and negligent design claims, the plaintiff needed admissible expert testimony to satisfy the proximate-cause element of her defective-design claim.

Only a failure to warn claim could potentially proceed without expert testimony, the court said.

That claim failed, however, because the Ohio homeowner didn't read or rely on any warnings or advertisements in deciding to purchase the Frigidaire machine.

“Accordingly, no reasonable jury could conclude the absence of a warning about mold and odors proximately caused her to buy or use that product,” the court said.

Numerous Suits Over Moldy Washers

The suit is one of many alleging washing machines prone to mold are faulty.

Currently before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit is an appeal by Electrolux contending the Southern District of Georgia certified a “wildly overbroad” class of washing-machine owners with mold claims (Brown v. Electrolux Home Prods., Inc., 11th Cir., No. 15-11455, response brief 7/15/15).

In July, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California upheld a settlement between a certified class of consumers and washer maker BSH Home Appliances Corp (Tait v. BSH Home Appliances Corp., 2015 BL 241344, C.D. Cal., No. 10-711, 7/27/15).

Murray & Murray and Dombey & Hart represent the plaintiffs.

Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and Squire Patton Boggs represent the defendant.


To contact the reporter on this story: Bruce Kaufman in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hayes at


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