Whirlpool apologizes for washer floods, will pay deductibles
Darcy Wintonyk and Lynda Steele, CTV British Columbia
Published Wednesday, November 7, 2012 5:52PM PST
Last Updated Thursday, November 8, 2012 7:41PM PST
The world’s largest appliance manufacturer is now offering to pay the insurance deductibles of consumers affected by flooding problems involving one of its popular washing machines, following a CTV investigation that revealed widespread problems involving dozens of consumers.
CTV’s Steele on Your Side has learned of 23 separate floods linked to the same top-loading Whirlpool model. In many cases, the washing machines turned on by themselves in a condo or townhouse and overflowed for hours. The floods resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage.
Many owners were forced to pay strata deductibles of up to $25,000 for damage incurred in adjacent suites when their machines overflowed.
Whirlpool had insisted there was no reason to believe there was a problem with the washer until CTV News uncovered a Whirlpool memo discussing potential problems with the model, along with seven others.
The memo, sent by Whirlpool to independent service technicians across North America (who are not Whirlpool employees) dated May 2012, said the washers “may overfill.”
Describing model Y WET 3300XQO, the technical service pointer warns that the washer “may overfill” and that "the pressure switches will send incorrect water level readings to the timer."
The memo also warned about seven other models: MET3800SW0, MGT3800XW1, WGT3300XQ0, YMET3800XW0, MGT3800XW0, WET3300XQ0, WGT3300XQ1 and YWET3300XQ0. It offered a simple repair kit to fix the problem.
After CTV News sent a copy of the memo to Whirlpool, spokesperson Kristine Vernier called Consumer Reporter Lynda Steele.
She said the service bulletin was sent out because Whirlpool staff had identified the washers as “a potential problem.”
Vernier could not say why the memo – which contained information about a repair kit -- wasn’t sent to the washing machine owners who experienced flooding in their homes.
“What I can say about that is that with everyone who has filed a claim with us -- we're working very quickly to resolve those claims,” she said.
When asked about whether the company was considering any kind of consumer advisory or recall, Vernier only said “we are very sensitive to cases like this.”
“We have a hundred year history of putting really quality products in homes throughout the world,” she said. “This is something we – I – take very seriously.”
Whirlpool sent a statement to CTV News on Wednesday saying it has now received 49 general water damage claims from consumers across the country whose washing machines overflowed.
The reports, which the company says are “isolated,” came from a population of approximately 11,000 units. The model we received the most complaints about (Y WET 3300XQO) is primarily used in condos and apartment complexes.
The company refused to do an on-camera interview, but did send CTV News a prepared video statement from a senior executive offering up a long-awaited apology to consumers.
Kathy Nelson, Vice-president of Consumer and Appliance Care for Whirlpool, said the company is aware of “isolated reports of overfills in our washer/dryer combo units that led to water damage.”
“We apologize for any inconvenience that some of our customers have experienced,” Nelson said.
Whirlpool says the problem affects less than one per cent of washers shipped to Canada since February of 2011, but it is now actively addressing consumer complaints.
"We're also working diligently to verify and resolve claims already brought to our attention, including reimbursing consumers for any deductibles that they've paid,” Nelson said.
“We’re working to identify and proactively contact customers in Canada who may have one of these machines to offer a free in-home inspection and service if needed.”
Whirlpool says its policy is to “reimburse our consumers for verified claims of damage that was caused by our products, including reimbursement for any deductibles paid."
Stephanie and George Mudrovcic, who suffered a flood in their brand-new Burnaby, B.C., townhome, aren’t satisfied with the company’s answer.
"Own up to it, do a recall. Get them out of people's homes,” Stephanie Mudrovcic said.
There is no regulatory body in Canada that can force a recall or investigation of an appliance.
The only way consumer regulatory agencies will intervene is if public safety is at risk, and that doesn’t apply in the case of these washing machines.
Consumer Protection BC, the organization that champions consumer rights in the province, told us it does not have the oversight necessary to enforce a recall but that it had reached out to the government.
"We feel there may be a gap in consumer protection around potential recalls of defective products. As a result we have brought the matter to the attention of the provincial government,” a spokesperson wrote in an emailed statement.
Whirlpool has set up a special hotline for consumers who've experienced flooding. The number to call is 1-866-333-4408.
Below is the entire statement sent to CTV News:
"To date, we have received 49 general water damage claims, which we believe may be related to this issue. The isolated reports received in Canada have come from a population of approximately 11,000 units, which represents less than 1% of all Whirlpool laundry units shipped to Canada since February 2011. The model involved is a specialty combination washer-dryer unit that is primarily used condominiums and apartment complexes. Some of these claims have been resolved, and we are working diligently to verify and quickly resolve the remaining claims that have been brought to our attention. It is our policy to reimburse our consumers for verified claims of damage that was caused by our products, including reimbursement for any deductibles paid."
"Our safety experts have evaluated washers and the reports we have received and determined this is a product performance issue. We have communicated with regulators in Canada and will provide them with updates, as necessary. Because of the specialty nature of this product, which is sold nearly exclusively to apartment and condominium complexes, we have determined that our proactive outreach program directly to owners of these units is the most effective and efficient way to reduce the risk of future events.
As part of our commitment to our customers, earlier this year we provided service technicians with information and materials, including a service pointer and hose kit, to reduce the potential of these events in the future. We are working diligently to verify and resolve claims already brought to our attention, including reimbursing consumers for any deductibles paid. We are also working to identify and proactively contact customers in Canada who may have one of these machines to offer a free in-home inspection and service, if needed. Customers who have questions should contact us directly at 866-333-4408 so that we can offer appropriate assistance. As part of Whirlpool's standard process, we will continuously monitor the performance of these washer units."