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Hoover Wins ‘Free Flights’ Cases

July 14, 1998

LONDON (AP) _ Appliance maker Hoover won four lawsuits Tuesday in lingering litigation from an embarrassing ``free flights″ promotion that cost millions and made the company a laughingstock.

Hoover is hoping to finally end the mess it created through the ill-fated sales promotion, but consumer activists are not ready to throw in the towel and estimate hundreds of thousands of people still may have grounds to sue.

The wrangling results from a Hoover promise in late 1992 and early 1993 of two free international airplane flights to anybody in Britain and Ireland who brought an appliance for as little as 100 pounds, about $165 at current exchange rates.

The response overwhelmed Hoover.

Many people bought vacuum cleaners just so they could get a free vacation. When Hoover turned to technicalities to stop them, many kept fighting. It turned into one of the biggest marketing mistakes in corporate history.

Hoover Europe’s former corporate parent, the Maytag Corp., of Newton, Iowa, finally spent $72 million to fly some 220,000 customers on their trips.

Judge Ivor Bennett, sitting in tiny St. Helens just outside Liverpool, ruled Tuesday that Hoover was not in breach of contract against four would-be travelers, Harold Bray, Colleen Codling, Jacqueline Freeman and Roger Diament.

Harry Cichy, who heads the Hoover Holiday Pressure Group, claimed the four consumers were victimized by fine print.

``Some of this group were offered tickets, but they were offered London tickets and they lived in Manchester, so the judge said, `You were offered tickets,‴ said Cichy, who heads the consumer activist organization and contends the battle against Hoover may not be over.

``They’re winning at the moment,″ conceded Cichy. He said up to 350,000 people in Britain and Ireland might have grounds to sue. The group had hoped to file a class-action suit on behalf of those consumers against the Hoover European Appliance Group.

Cichy noted that the Hoover Holiday Pressure Group had previously won two test cases _ and they were upheld on appeal _ before Tuesday’s losses.

``We’re disappointed with today’s outcome, but it has to be taken as a whole,″ Cichy said. ``They can’t take the first two away.″

Several more lawsuits are still in the pipeline before Judge Bennett. Cichy said his group’s lawyers will have to study verdicts in 14 separate test cases before deciding whether to file a class-action suit.

Hoover, meanwhile, hopes the cases it has won will set the precedent. ``We are confident of similar outcomes in the future,″ the company said in a statement Tuesday.

Hoover pointed out it has prevailed in most of the lawsuits filed in the free-flights saga in various courts around Britain, although spokeswoman Caroline Knight said she was unable to provide any exact tally.

Maytag no longer owns Hoover Europe. It sold the business to the Italian appliance maker Candy S.p.A, although Maytag had to set up a fund to deal with the free-flights litigation.

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