Thermomix: ‘Yes, we misled you’
THE Australian distributor of the Thermomix has confessed to misleading consumers and will be hit with a fine which could run into millions of dollars.
Thermomix In Australia Pty Ltd has also admitted to knowing nine women and a child had been burnt by its pricey appliance before it decided a public safety warning was necessary.
TIA has conceded a further legal breach for taking up to 1200 days to report serious injuries to the Federal Government when the time limit is two days.
The nation's leading consumer group, Choice, said the admissions - disclosed in court documents obtained by News Corp Australia - show a "reckless approach to product safety".
Choice spokesman Tom Godfrey said the revelations "should come as a warning to anyone looking to purchase a Thermomix product in the future".
About 200,000 households have a Thermomix TM31, which cost $2000 each.
Choice raised the alarm about Thermomix cookers, publishing an investigation in May 2016 that catalogued 83 incidents involving TM31s and four about the newer TM5. TM31 owners reported hot food or liquid spitting from the mixing bowl, which was meant to be sealed shut.
In June this year the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission filed Federal Court proceedings against TIA alleging several breaches of the Competition and Consumer Act.
The ACCC accused TIA of misleading users and prospective purchasers by publicly denying there had been a safety recall on the TM31. In a 2016 media release, TIA had said the TM31 had never been subject to a product recall and was "absolutely safe".
This was despite a voluntary recall notice being published on the government's recalls website in October 2014 that said the original grey sealing ring had to be replaced with a new green one because a "potential product defect could lead to a scald or burn for the user if liquid or food splashes out of the mixing bowl".
In its formal response to the allegation TIA now admits there had been a recall.
TIA also admits to 14 late notifications of serious injuries. One was 1201 days overdue; another was 578 days late.
"TIA concedes the ACCC is entitled to relief in relation to the recall representation issues and the late submission of mandatory reports and will co-operate with the ACCC," TIA's formal response to the court says.
A court can impose a penalty of up to $1.1 million for each instance where a corporation has misled consumers. The ACCC argues TIA did so on multiple occasions over the recall. Late safety notifications carry fines of $16,500 per breach.
The ACCC also alleged TIA knew of nine incidents over 17 months in which consumers had been burned before taking any steps to alert consumers.
By keeping quiet, TIA had made a false or misleading representation, the ACCC claimed.
TIA now admits it knew of the nine incidents but disputes the ACCC's claim that this constituted a false or misleading representation.
TIA also intends to defend the ACCC's charge that it denied legitimate refunds.
"TIA disputes that the TM31 is an unsafe product," the company told the court.
"It is a safe, reliable and high quality kitchen appliance provided that it is used in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions including, as a precaution, that the green seal is replaced every two years."
One of the nine women TIA knew had been burned told News Corp Australia said she welcomed signs the company was beginning to take responsibility. The TM31 owner asked not to be named because she had been "horrifically trolled on social media" when she first spoke publicly about what had happened to her.
"I got at least 300 messages saying what a crap person I am," the woman said.
The other eight could not be contacted.
The ACCC and TIA are due to face off over the matters still in dispute in the Federal Court in Melbourne from April 9 next year. If TIA loses it could be hit with millions of dollars more in fines.