9th Circ. Says $36M Deal Permits Fridge Buyers’ Punitive Suits

The Ninth Circuit has denied Norcold Inc.’s bid to block consumers — who already got a portion of a $36 million class action settlement — from seeking punitive damages in other lawsuits, ruling that the 2016 deal did not bar all future claims.

A three-judge panel ruled that the multimillion-dollar settlement, which ended some claims related to Norcold refrigerators catching fire, doesn’t prevent the same class of buyers from now pursuing punitive personal injury and property damage claims in courts across the country.

The settlement ended claims for two subclasses, which together had roughly 575,000 members. Specifically, one group sought damages for fraud, as they claimed to have overpaid for the refrigerators due to Norcold’s alleged misrepresentations or omissions. The other subclass claimed product liability tort, saying they actually dealt with fridge fires that caused property damage and, in some cases, injury.

The company took issue with six lawsuits by consumers that sought punitive damages for injury and property damage lawsuits.  The agreement’s terms stipulate that class members do not reserve the right to assert punitive damage claims, and there are two sections that support this argument, Norcold claimed.

One section says, “This provision does not state class members reserve the right to assert punitive damage claims based on Defendants’ alleged misrepresentations and/or concealment of alleged defects in Norcold’s refrigerators.”

The other states: “This provision does not state class members reserve punitive damage claims.”

But the panel found that the company’s reading failed to take into account the contract as a whole.

The panel found Norcold’s arguments unpersuasive that U.S. District Court Judge Josephine L. Staton had inserted additional terms into the deal in 2021, partly because this was the same judge who gave final approval to the agreement and made a 2016 ruling that suggested plaintiffs could pursue these claims.

LAW360: https://www.law360.com/appellate/articles/1470149/9th-circ-says-36m-deal-permits-fridge-buyers-punitive-suits

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