By Russ and Tiña De Maris
A federal court judge in Miami, Florida, has favored Dometic in a potential class action lawsuit brought by RVers who say they were sold defective RV refrigerators. Judge Robert Scola of the U.S. District Court ruled that the suit be tossed out.
Catherine Papasan and 17 other individuals brought the class action suit against Dometic Corporation, alleging that Dometic’s refrigerators have a design defect that results in excessive corrosion on the inside of the gas absorption refrigerator’s boiler tubes, and that the corrosion causes the boiler tubes to internally “corrode, crack, and ultimately expel flammable ammonia, hydrogen gas, and carcinogenic sodium chromate at high pressure.” They further alleged that the leaked gas can ignite, but even if it does not ignite, the corrosion eventually ruins the refrigerator’s functionality.
The plaintiffs claim that “because [Dometic] concealed material facts regarding the defect and continuing safety risk to every class member … every class member was induced at the point of sale to purchase their refrigerators at a premium price that they otherwise would not have paid[.]”
While some of the plaintiffs said they’d had no failure of their refrigerators, one of them, Nelson Goehle, of Washington state, claimed that in 2005 he bought a model year 2000 RV with one of Dometic’s RM2652 model refrigerators. Goehle contends that he “used the refrigerator as intended and followed all applicable instructions from Dometic.” But in March 2016, he watched fire blast out of the RV’s refrigerator vent while it was parked outside his home. The RV was totally demolished, and the fire additionally damaged his home. Other plaintiffs in the case also reported refrigerator fires that destroyed their rigs, including Andrew Young of Ohio, and Christopher Johnston of Texas.
In its own filings with the court, defendant Dometic wrote it had set out a recall process in 2006 and 2008 to retrofit some refrigerators for what it termed a “remote risk of fire.” Dometic said it had also put retrofit systems into new models to care for this concern.
Still, the bottom line for these Dometic refrigerator owners wasn’t what they wanted. Judge Scola ruled that because Dometic sells refrigerators not to individual consumers but rather to RV manufacturers, and doesn’t have records of who such end-using customers are, he could not legitimately certify a class-action suit. The plaintiffs had asked for the class-action status, and asked for damages for consumers across the U.S. who owned RVs equipped with the listed Domestic refrigerators. The judge did leave the way open for attorneys to file amendments that might later create a favorable ruling.
Dometic responded to the court’s ruling through its president, Juan Vargues, in a statement issued after the ruling. “I am pleased to see the ruling to dismiss the class action lawsuit. We have all along remained firm in the position that the allegations in the consolidated case were without merit.”
Based on the final ruling of the judge, it isn’t clear that Dometic was vindicated; rather, the judge ruled that the federal court simply did not have the jurisdiction to issue a class-action status in the matter. The ruling was handed down July 24.