An Ohio federal judge has given preliminary approval to a $300 million class action settlement that would end consumers’ claims that Vita-Mix Corp. blenders contained a defective seal that left flecks of a Teflon-like substance in their food and beverages. If the settlement receives final approval it would give consumers who purchased a Vita-Mix household blender made between Jan. 1, 2007, and Oct. 1, 2016, a replacement blade with a different seal or a $70 gift card toward the purchase of a new Vita-Mix blender or container. Consumers who purchased a blender on or after Sept. 15, 2015, but before Aug. 9, 2016, or before April 7, 2017, in the case of a commercial blender from the XL product line, can also receive a replacement blade with the new seal. The settlement, “conservatively” estimated at $300 million, affects some 6 million blenders and a similar number of consumers, according to court documents.

U.S. District Judge Susan J. Dlott gave the settlement initial approval, finding in an order that the settlement was fair and reasonable and satisfied all other relevant considerations. Judge Dlott wrote:

Based upon information provided: the class is ascertainable; it numbers in the millions, satisfying numerosity; there are common questions of law and fact, including whether the seal at issue was defective, satisfying commonality; the proposed class representatives’ claims are typical, in that they are members of the class and allege they have been damaged by the same conduct as other members of the class.

The settlement, which will be subject to a March 2018 fairness hearing, establishes a nationwide settlement class lead by consumers Vicki A. Linneman and Obadiah N. Ritchey. It also designates as class counsel lawyers from Markovits Stock & DeMarco LLC, Goldenberg Schneider LPA and Finney Law Firm LLC.

Consumers first sued the popular blender manufacturer in November 2015, contending that a defective seal resulted tiny shards of a chemical called polytetrafluoroethylene, a Teflon-like substance, peeling off and ending up in whatever food or drink was being mixed. Consumers say they discovered the tiny flakes, which are almost invisible to the naked eye, when they poured the contents into a white bowl. Vita-Mix’s high-end blenders retail for $400 to $700, according to the suit.

Consumers claimed the company continued to sell blenders it knew breached its warranty terms in order to increase sales. The company claimed that the flakes were food-grade, that it was in the process of developing a new seal when complaints arose, and that it swapped defective containers for ones with new seals, meaning consumers had not been injured. The suit prompted the companies’ insurers, who contended that Vita-Mix should have known consumers would sue, to fight against coverage.

If approved, the settlement would also require Vita-Mix distributors to help spread the word about the settlement, which will be published online and in popular cooking and household publications. In a motion clarifying the settlement arrangements, Vita-Mix noted that the valuation of the settlement, which does not establish a common fund, could be contested in connection with consumers’ fee application at a later time.

Consumers are represented by W.B. Markovits, Paul M. De Marco, Christopher D. Stock, Andrew R. Biller and Terence R. Coates of Markovits Stock DeMarco LLC; Christopher P. Finney and Justin Walker of Finney Law Firm LLC; and Jeffrey S. Goldenberg of Goldenberg Schneider LPA. The case is Linneman et al. v. Vita-Mix Corp. et al., (case number 1:15-cv-00748) in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.

Source: Law360.com

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