$23M Deal Fixes Leaky Toilet Pipe Class Action

A California federal judge granted final approval Friday to Watts Water Technologies Inc.’s $23 million settlement with a class of consumers who purchased Watts’ leaky toilet pipe connectors, some of whom sustained property damage and were displaced from their homes because of the defects.

U.S. District Court Judge William Orrick said Friday that the settlement, which he preliminarily approved in February, is a good one for the class, which includes consumers who bought the couplers as well as those whose connectors failed.

Under the deal, class members can file a claim for a cash reimbursement of $4 per connector, up to $20 if they purchased five connectors, so they can replace the item with a brand of their choice. Those who suffered property damage as a result of a faulty connector can file claims for up to 25 percent of the cost of their repairs, according to the settlement.

We think there will be adequate money in the fund to pay everyone, plaintiffs’ attorney Simon Paris of Saltz Mongeluzzi and Bendesky said. Is everybody in the class better off today than if they litigated? In this case, everyone gets relief.

In other lawsuits against Watts, many plaintiffs have gotten little, if anything, Paris argued. We were able to litigate against a well-heeled defense team – it was a battle and I can see why, in other cases, the relief was lost. Watts’ attorney, David MacCuish of Alston & Bird LLP, agreed that the case was a tough battle and that the settlement was a very hard bargain, and urged Judge Orrick to approve it.

Paris also asked the judge to approve his team’s bid for $5.75 million in attorneys’ fees, arguing that they were asking for the traditional 25 percent of the settlement pot and there haven’t been any objections from the class, which was notified about the potential award.

Judge Orrick raised few concerns about the proposal, but asked Paris to provide more details about some of the expenses for which he’s seeking reimbursement, saying he didn’t want to provide attorneys with a blank check without knowing where the money might go.

The judge also questioned the proposed $7,500 fee award for lead plaintiff Jason Trabakoolas, saying it seemed pretty high. But Paris argued that Trabakoolas did much more work than simply providing a deposition, ultimately spending more than 60 hours assisting the litigation since it was filed two years ago.

According to the amended complaint, Trabakoolas arrived home from a weekend vacation in July 2011 to discover that his Watts toilet connector had ruptured, spraying water with enough force to make a hole in the drywall next to his toilet. Watts’ plastic coupling units are uniformly defective in their design and labeling, failing to warn customers about the potential that they would spontaneously fail, the complaint said.

The plaintiffs are represented by Simon B. Paris and PatrickHoward at Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bendesky PC; Joseph J. Tabacco Jr. and Todd Seaver at Berman DeValerio; Daniel E. Gustafson, Jason S. Kilene and Michelle J. Looby of Gustafson Gluek PLLC; Steve W. Berman, Elaine T. Byszewski, Jeff D. Friedman and Anthony D. Shapiro of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP; and Donald L. Perelman and Gerard A. Dever of Fine Kaplan and Black PC.

Watts is represented by David Spruance MacCuish, Jenny Ann Mendelsohn, Lindsay G. Carlson, Scott Austin Elder
and Todd Brian Benoff of Alston & Bird LLP.

The case is Trabakoolas et al v. Watts Water Technologies, Inc. et al, case number 3:12-cv-01172, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California

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