Spitzer To Sue G.e. Over Deceptive Dishwasher Recall Program

Attorney General Spitzer recently notified General Electric that he intends to sue the company for deceiving consumers into buying new dishwashers following a safety recall.

G.E. is accused of concealing information from consumers about inexpensive procedures to fix a fire hazard in its dishwashers. At the same time that G.E. was telling consumers their appliances could not be fixed, the company made available to commercial customers -- landlords and hotels managers -- repair kits, a video, and even provided a $15 labor allowance.

"This is really very simple, G.E. intentionally deceived consumers in New York and across the country so they could sell more dishwashers," Spitzer said.

"The company knew how its dishwashers could be fixed -- and actually provided inexpensive repair kits to commercial customers -- but encouraged thousands of individual consumers to spend hundreds of dollars on new machines when clearly they did not need to do so. Even worse, many consumers are still using the dangerous dishwashers, unaware that they can be safely fixed for about $75."

It is estimated that consumers could have hired an appliance repair person for approximately $75 for the ten minute repair procedure.

The suit, which will be filed later this month, involves an October, 1999 recall of 3.1 million GE and Hotpoint dishwashers made between 1983 and 1989. The machines have a slide switch problem that poses a fire hazard, and has in fact resulted in dozens of fires.

Unlike most product recalls, which offer repairs, replacements or refunds, G.E. offered rebates of only $75 - $125 toward the purchase of a new G.E. dishwasher, and much less for non-GE brands. When consumers questioned whether the machines could be repaired, the company deceptively told them that the procedure was too complicated, parts were unavailable, and due to the dishwashers' age, repairs were not possible.

While G.E. was telling this to individual consumers, it was offering its commercial customers an inexpensive repair kit consisting of two crimp-on connectors, instructions and a $15 labor allowance. G.E. in fact, prepared a short video for certain commercial customers showing them how to make the repairs.

Because of G.E.'s misleading statements, many individual consumers bought new dishwashers, spending from $300 to $600 over and above the rebate. Others have continued to use their dishwashers - which pose a fire hazard - because they cannot afford to purchase a new one.

"G.E.'s blatant misrepresentations have forced tens of thousands of consumers here in New York and around the country to spend hundreds of dollars to buy new dishwashers when their old ones could have been easily, and inexpensively fixed," said Spitzer.

Spitzer's lawsuit is seeking restitution and damages for consumers who have continued to use hazardous dishwashers or who have paid for new dishwashers because of the company's misrepresentations.

In the months following the announcement, G.E. received nearly 671,000 phone calls on a toll-free phone line set up specifically for the recall. Instructions on this phone line asked consumers to put all complaints in writing. G.E. further provided documentation that it received approximately 5,000 letters about the recall from concerned consumers.

Individuals interested in filing a complaint against General Electric are encouraged to contact the Attorney General's consumer help line at (800) 771-7755. Out-of-state consumers should call (212) 416-8345. Consumers also can obtain complaint formson the Attorney General's web site at www.ag.ny.gov.

The specific dishwashers involved in the 1999 recall are General Electric and Hotpoint dishwashers with the model numbers GSD500D, GSD500G, GSD540, HDA467, HDA477, and HDA487 with a serial number that has a second letter of A,M,R,S,T,V or Z (e.g., BM12345).

Spitzer reminded consumers that they should not use the recalled dishwashers, and should keep the dishwasher door unlatched to prevent the flow of current to the defective slide switch. Consumers also should not attempt to repair their dishwashers on their own.

This case is being handled by Assistant Attorneys General Joy Feigenbaum and Aleris Charleman of the Consumer Frauds and Protection Bureau.

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