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Hoover Buyers Even Flight Fight

July 15, 1998

LONDON (AP) _ The latest battle over Hoover Europe’s infamous ``free flights″ promotion intensified Wednesday as the company lost three lawsuits to customers who bought appliances just so they could fly for free.

Hoover won a fourth suit Wednesday, and following four victories the company racked up Tuesday, the score in this round of litigation is tied at five judgments for each side.

``It’s clear that they can’t sweep it under the carpet,″ said Harry Cichy, head of an alliance calling itself the Hoover Holiday Pressure Group that won its first two lawsuits last year. ``We have thousands of people who fit into the category of the cases we won today.″

Hoover Europe created its own dilemma six years ago by making an offer that was too good to be true. Anybody in Britain or Ireland who spent as little as 100 pounds, the equivalent of $165, on a Hoover appliance was promised two free overseas airline tickets.

Vacuum cleaners being cheaper than international air fares, many people bought Hoovers only to get a free flight. Hoover was overwhelmed and tried to deter customers by attaching numerous conditions to the deal, but thousands fought back.

Hoover Europe’s former corporate parent, U.S.-based Maytag Corp., eventually paid out $72 million to fly some 220,000 people, but Hoover still has been unable to close out one of the most embarrassing blunders in corporate history.

Cichy has said as many as 350,000 people might have grounds to sue Hoover. But the new batch of rulings from Judge Ivor Bennett, sitting in tiny St. Helens, just outside of Liverpool, would make some of those cases difficult to press.

Hoover said it plans to appeal the three judgments it lost, while calling the cases it won similar to ``other examples of free flights litigation.″

``We are confident of similar successful outcomes in the future,″ the Hoover European Appliance Group said in a statement.

But Cichy pointed out that two previous lawsuits won by members of the Hoover Holiday Pressure Group were upheld after Hoover appealed. Cichy said his group must ``take stock of the situation″ but predicted the angry customers will keep fighting, perhaps with a class-action.

``We’re not going to rule out knocking on Maytag’s door,″ Cichy said. ``When you do a deal with somebody you should stick to it.″

Maytag, based in Newton, Iowa, has sold Hoover Europe to the Italian appliance maker Candy SpA, but had to set up a fund to handle litigation in the free flights fiasco. Maytag, which still sells Hoover products in the United States, did not immediately return a reporter’s phone calls Wednesday.

The plaintiffs who won Wednesday _ David Albutt, Malcolm Hill and Peter Madigan _ also received costs of nearly 100 pounds each after convincing the court Hoover was in breach of contract by making it impossible for them to fly.

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