An Illinois Jury has ruled that Whirlpool violated the state's Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act in marketing its steam clothes dryers. But the jurors said that violation did not rise to the level of fraud.

At issue was Whirlpool's ads for its Cabrio and Duet steam dryers, as well as its Maytag Bravo line. The jury found Whirlpool was deceptive in describing the dryers as "steam" models, since they actually use a cold water spray.

Whirlpool, on its part, hailed the split verdict as a victory.

"We are very pleased with the decision," said Marc Bitzer, president, Whirlpool North America Region.  "This case is about consumer choice, competition in the American free market, and offering the kind of innovative laundry solutions Whirlpool has provided to consumers for nearly 100 years. Our steam dryers, which provide more convenient steam performance and consumer benefits, are a perfect example of our leadership.  This win means consumers will continue to have a choice in purchasing their steam laundry appliances."  

Nasty fight

The case was brought by Whirlpool's increasingly bitter rival, LG, which viewed the outcome as anything for a victory for its competitor.

In the case filed on Jan. 10, 2008, LG alleged that Whirlpool made false statements in marketing its Duet and Cabrio Steam Dryers, as well as the Maytag brand Bravo Steam Dryer manufactured by Whirlpool, because these products do not produce or use steam.  

Instead, they spray water from a cold water source into a heated drum, which tumble dries the wet clothes in the same manner as conventional dryers. Whirlpool claimed that evaporation from the heated clothes is steam, but the jury rejected that defense, finding that Whirlpool violated the Illinois Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act.

With Judge Amy St. Eve presiding, the eight-woman, one-man jury made its determination of facts in the case upon deliberating for one day, after hearing from more than 19 witnesses during the 11-day trial.

"Today's verdict reaffirms LG's commitment to develop and produce the most technologically innovative laundry machines on the market," said James Shad, president of LG Electronics USA.

Marketing battle

The case actually appeared to be more of a marketing battle than a legal argument. Lawyers for LG pointed up what they said were differences between LG's Steam Dryer and Whirlpool's Duet Steam Dryer.

Both brands, by the way, get their fair share of complaints from consumers writing to ConsumerAffairs.com.

Both Whirlpool and LG put out competing press releases claiming victory in the case. LG said "the court will now determine the scope of an injunction prohibiting Whirlpool from continuing to market its misting dryers as Steam Dryers."

Whirlpool responded by saying it "proved that its innovative steam dryers, from its Marion, Ohio factory, use steam to deliver the consumer benefits of wrinkle relaxation and odor reduction."