Millions get cards describing lawn mower settlement

Posted April 11, 2010, at 8 p.m.

Almost anyone who has bought a power lawn mower in the past 16 years could be eligible for a cash rebate and an extended warranty. That was the message on a postcard in millions of mailboxes recently.

A federal court case that began in Wisconsin was resolved without a trial. Last week, people all over the country found cards in their mailboxes outlining the settlement of the class action lawsuit.

The suit had charged the companies that manufactured the engines on most major brands of mowers overstated their horsepower. Makers were accused of labeling their products in terms of their gross horsepower, a theoretical maximum, rather than minimum horsepower, which some say is a more accurate rating.

It got to the stage of a criminal case when the manufacturers were accused of misleading consumers. More serious in some critics’ minds was the charge that the manufacturers conspired to influence the requirements on labeling, so that it would be harder to discover the fraud.

The companies that sold the mowers include Craftsman, Honda, Husqvarna, John Deere, Lawn-Boy, Poulan, Snapper, Toro, Troy Bilt and Weed Eater. Makers of the engines include Briggs & Stratton, Honda, Kawasaki, Kohler, Tecumseh and Toro.

The companies agreed to the settlement without admitting any wrongdoing. If a judge signs off on the proposed settlement, the companies will pay into a pool from which consumers will be compensated.

Only owners of gasoline-powered mowers purchased between Jan. 1, 1994, and April 12, 2010, are eligible. The mowers must have been bought only for your own use. To find out if you qualify for a rebate, you’ll need to fill out a simple form, listing your walk-behind or riding mower’s brand, ID number, engine brand and engine model number. You can find those numbers on your machine; there’s help in locating the numbers on the Web site about the settlement, www.LawnMowerClass.com.

You can call for a claim form, 1-877-773-8196 or write to Lawn Mower Settlement, P.O. Box 2309, Faribault MN 55021-9009. To be considered, a claim form must be submitted by Aug. 31.

If you qualify, you could receive a rebate of up to $35 for a walk-behind mower, or up to $75 for a riding mower. Buyers may also qualify for an extension of their warranty for one year; this applies only if there was a warranty issued by the manufacturer when the mower was purchased.

A final hearing on the settlement will be held in June. While you don’t have to apply to be part of the settlement, you do need to notify the court if you want to object to the terms. (The settlement resulted from long negotiations, and getting them changed is not likely.)

It’s been estimated that, as proposed, the settlement could cost manufacturers as much as $65 million. While a $35 or $75 check might be welcome now, expect to pay at least that much more down the road, when it’s time to replace your mower and the companies begin to recoup their costs.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s membership-funded, nonprofit consumer organization. Individual and business memberships are available at modest rates. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for more information, write: Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, or go to http://necontact.wordpress.com.

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