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ATRA Urges Supreme Court to Hear Case with Huge Implications for U.S. Manufacturing Jobs

Says Voter Concerns about Lawsuits’ Toll on Economy Also Should Encourage Legislators, Executives to Act

CONTACT: Darren McKinney

Washington, DC, October 9, 2012 -- The Washington Times today published an op-ed by American Tort Reform Association president Tiger Joyce that urges the U.S. Supreme Court to hear an appeal of lower court decisions that certify a class-action lawsuit with potentially disastrous implications for manufacturing jobs in America.  (The court could decide against hearing the case as early as Friday, October 12.)

If granted certiorari by the high court, Whirlpool v. Glazer in the most immediate sense will focus on an Ohio federal court’s certification of a class and the upholding of that certification last May by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.  In its petition for cert, defendant Whirlpool argues that the lower courts failed to heed the high court’s standards for class certification established by 2011’s landmark Wal-Mart decision

The lawsuit against Whirlpool is one of dozens that similarly target manufacturers of widely popular water- and energy-efficient, front-loading washing machines by alleging that a tiny fraction of such machines have developed a moldy odor when not maintained as prescribed in owner’s manuals.

“If certain lower courts are allowed to ignore a major Supreme Court precedent,” Joyce writes in his Times op-ed, “others may come to see the high court’s limited capacity to hear fresh appeals of presumably settled law as an advantage in an ideological war of attrition.  As it has in recent years with antitrust and securities law, the high court can nip in the bud such thinking on class-certification standards with the Whirlpool case.

“Beyond the urgent question of class certification, the 6th Circuit’s opinion being appealed also establishes a radical new theory of product liability,” Joyce’s piece continues.  “In essence, it says that even if just one buyer of a manufactured product might one day become dissatisfied with the product, even if proper product maintenance would have prevented that dissatisfaction, and even if the product is otherwise widely and enthusiastically embraced in the marketplace, everyone who ever bought the product has, by definition, been overcharged and can be joined in a class action against the manufacturer.

“Such a wild expansion of product liability law in the class-action context could make trial lawyers rich beyond their wildest dreams while bankrupting countless manufacturers and dooming those manufacturers’ employees to the nightmare of joblessness.”

Citing ATRA’s recent nationwide survey that shows more than 7 in 10 registered voters believe “our liability lawsuit system negatively impacts the United States' ability to compete in the world [because] it raises the cost of doing business and limits investment in jobs here,” Joyce also urged state and federal candidates to support tort reforms that reduce the drag runaway litigation exerts on the economy.

“Lawsuit reform isn’t a partisan issue, it’s an economic issue,” observed Joyce.  “When an overwhelming majority of Americans say lawsuit abuse is a problem, candidates and elected officials should pay attention.  Whether it’s large companies facing preposterous consumer class actions or small businesses threatened by slip-and-fall racketeers, lawsuit abuse erodes the nation’s economic prospects and drives American jobs overseas.”