Two injection molders are seeking an appeal after a Texas jury awarded $78.5 million to a Houston manufacturer of tankless water heaters that accused the molders of making faulty components that caused nearly 2,000 products to fail in homes across the country.
The manufacturer, Microtherm Inc., filed suit in U.S. District Court in Brownsville, Texas, in 2002, naming Puget Plastics Corp. of Tualatin, Ore., and United Plastics Group Inc. of Westmont, Ill.
Microtherm said the two companies molded 2-pound, 13-inch, double-component parts at a lower melt temperature than required, unbeknownst to Microtherm President David Seitz. The parts were made of glass-reinforced nylon, Seitz said.
The jury reached its verdict Dec. 17. Seitz said by telephone Dec. 22 that the parts were molded at UPG's now-closed facility in Gladewater, Texas, and Puget's plant in Guadalajara, Mexico. The suit also named Dana Corp. of Toledo, Ohio, which Microtherm blamed for faulty thermostats produced at plants in Brownsville and Matamoros, Mexico.
``When you're using an engineering plastic because of its mechanical and physical properties, when you mold it at a lower temperature, you don't get the same properties,'' said Steve Bryant, the lawyer representing Microtherm.
Seitz said most of the failures occurred between 2001 and 2002, affecting 20-25 percent of the heaters.
``Well over 2,000 heaters failed,'' Seitz said. ``We had to prove that it wasn't a failure of the material, design or technology.
``I bet 25 percent of my entire life in the research and development and introduction of this product. We were poised to really take off in our market share. It caught us before we even got off the ground.''
Seitz said parts molded at UPG's Houston facility since 2002 have performed flawlessly.
But Puget's lawyer said the case is not over, and UPG officials said Judge Leonel Alejandro has not rendered his judgment.
``The verdict is not supported by either Texas law or Mexican law,'' said William Wood, Puget's lawyer. ``We believe that Mexican law applies to this case, but that the jury was allowed only to consider Texas law. We are confident that this verdict will be reversed on appeal.''
``The evidence showed that UPG molded parts that met Microtherm's specifications,'' UPG Chief Executive Officer Shannon White wrote in a Dec. 22 e-mail.
``We believe the verdict delivered by the jury is neither supported by the evidence in the case, nor supportable under Texas law. Therefore, if the judge does not set the verdict aside on post-trial motions, we expect the Corpus Christi Court of Appeals or the Texas Supreme Court to set it aside.''