The Federal Court has ordered Woolworths Ltd to pay penalties of more than $3 million for breaches of the Australian Consumer Law relating to safety issues with house brand products sold in Woolworths supermarkets, Big W and Masters stores.
The court declared that Woolworths engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct and, in some cases, had made false or misleading representations about the safety of five of its house brand products – a deep fryer, drain cleaner, safety matches, a padded flop chair and a folding stool – over a period of three years.
The defects in Woolworths’ products caused several serious injuries, including burns from hot oil when the handle of the deep fryer broke during use and chemical burns, including to a young child, caused by defective caps on the bottles of drain cleaner.
In some cases, Woolworths became aware of serious injuries resulting from defects in these products, but did not remove the products from sale and recall them. These products were subsequently removed from sale and recalled, but not always before further injuries resulted from their defects. In these cases the court found that Woolworths had misled consumers as to the suitability of the products.
In other cases, the court found that express representations on the products or packaging were false or misleading. For example, the padded flop chair was described as capable of bearing the weight of 115kg when under testing it could not reliably support more than 92kg.
Justice Edelman also found that Woolworths contravened the Australian Consumer Law by failing to report serious injuries to the ACCC within two days of becoming aware that serious injuries may have been caused by these products. The court found that Woolworths failed to do so on eight occasions in relation to products, including a coffee plunger, cling wrap and some food products.