Whirlpool, LG Claim Victories at Steam Dryer Trial

Whirlpool Corp. didn’t defraud consumers when it touted the steam-creating capabilities of its Duet line of clothes dryers, a U.S. jury found, while concluding it had breached Illinois’ deceptive trade practices law.

The Chicago jury reached a split verdict in the trial of a case filed by rival LG Electronics USA in 2008 -- which makes its own line of steam-generating clothes dryers -- after five hours of deliberations. The outcome left both sides claiming victory in the courtroom battle that started on Oct. 4.

“We are very pleased with this decision,” Marc Bitzer, president of Benton Harbor, Michigan-based Whirlpool’s North America region, said after today’s verdict. An LG statement touted the deceptive trade practices finding, while Whirlpool emphasized its win in a separate press release.

The Chicago federal court trial was the third legal battle between Benton Harbor, Michigan-based Whirlpool and Seoul-based LG Corp. this year. The two companies have also clashed over refrigerator design.

LG had accused its rival of defrauding consumers by falsely advertising the capabilities of its dryers, which Whirlpool asserts uses a different method of creating steam.

In his opening argument, Lawrence Desideri, an attorney for LG, had asked the jury to award his client $60 million, which he said represented the profits Whirlpool had wrongfully reaped.

“It doesn’t boil water. It doesn’t create steam,” had Desideri said.

Rejected Claims

The jurors rejected LG’s unfair-competition and consumer-fraud claims, Stephen Morrison, a lawyer for Whirlpool, said in an interview after the verdict. They agreed with LG’s claim that Whirlpool had violated the Illinois Deceptive Trade Practices Act, an outcome Morrison described as “inconsistent.”

The jury didn’t award any damages to LG, he said.

Desideri’s co-counsel, Ronald Rothstein, disagreed with Morrison’s assessment of the outcome in a telephone interview after the verdict.

The “objective of the suit,” Rothstein said, was to stop Whirlpool from using the word “steam” to advertise its dryers.

LG’s dryers heat water to the boiling point of 212 degrees Fahrenheit (100 degrees Celsius) before injecting the resultant vapor into a cold dryer drum. Whirlpool’s unit injects a cold, fine mist into a hot dryer drum, which Morrison told jurors in his opening statement, accomplished the same objective.

Generating ‘Steam’

“A federal court jury today found that Whirlpool Corp. violated the Illinois Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act, which prohibits false advertising, by marketing ‘steam dryer’ models that use a cold water spray instead of a steam generator,” LG said in its press release.

Rothstein said he will ask U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve, who presided over the trial, to bar Whirlpool from using the word “steam” in the advertising of its dryers.

Whirlpool in March won a $1.78 million judgment against LG in a fight over patented refrigerator technology. A month earlier, the American company lost a bid to have its rival’s refrigerators banned from the U.S. market.

The case is LG Electronics USA Inc. v. Whirlpool Corp., 08-cv-242, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois (Chicago).

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