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Jury Sides With Behr's Customers

Consumers: Washington homeowners said the Santa Ana company's products promoted mildew growth.

May 26, 2000|From Associated Press

A jury in Aberdeen, Wash., has awarded damages to nine homeowners who claimed that wood-finish products made by Behr Process Corp. of Santa Ana caused mildew growth on their houses rather than prevented it.

Lawyers for the homeowners say thousands of others in western Washington may be eligible to collect similar damages in the wake of the lawsuit.

The Grays Harbor County Superior Court jury ordered Behr to pay each of the nine families between $14,000 and $87,000.

Plaintiffs alleged that Behr products--Super Liquid Rawhide Nos. 12 and 13 and Natural Seal Plus Nos. 80 and 92--caused their homes and wood surfaces to turn black with mildew in less than a year.

They contended the products did not contain enough anti-mildew ingredient and contained too much linseed oil, which can promote mildew growth in a wet climate.

Earlier this month, Superior Court Judge David Foscue issued a default judgment against Behr, ruling that the company had failed to disclose tests that showed the products were defective.

In the multipart ruling, Foscue said Behr deceived consumers with its advertising and labels on defective products and violated the state Consumer Protection Act.

"We absolutely plan to appeal," Skip Cypert, Behr vice president of investor relations, said Thursday.

Cypert said the company stands by its contention that its products were not defective. He said the failure to disclose the test results was inadvertent, but he also declined to say what the tests had revealed.

Cypert said the company felt it was treated unfairly during the trial because it was not allowed to present some evidence or call many witnesses.

Behr sold more than 680,000 gallons of the products in the region over the last five years, he said, "and out of that there were only 53 complaints or questions about the product. That's one of the lowest rates in the industry."

The jury's decision Tuesday ended "a consumers' nightmare," said one of the plaintiffs' lawyers, Paul Stritmatter of Hoquiam.

Mildew "was a problem experienced by anyone who had purchased those products and applied them on their home," he said, adding that when consumers called Behr to complain, the company told them they had applied the products incorrectly and should try again.

Hearings are scheduled for June 12 and 13 on possible violations of the Consumer Protection Act. Stritmatter said Wednesday he would seek an additional $10,000 for each plaintiff, the maximum allowed under the act.

Hearings begin June 22 to determine how to distribute damage awards.

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