(DETROIT FREE PRESS) - Talk about coming unglued.
Two frustrated consumers are suing the makers of Instant Krazy Glue in Detroit federal court, claiming they got duped into thinking the sticky stuff that can supposedly hold a man in a hardhat to a beam in midair would bond wood.
Not quite, says their lawsuit, which takes issue with the product's package: on the front it says good for wood; on the back it says just the opposite.
Not only is that irritating and confusing, but it's illegal, argue the plaintiffs, who are pursuing a false advertising class action lawsuit against Elmers Products, which is based in Westerville, Ohio. The two lead plaintiffs from metro Detroit -- one a retired schoolteacher; the other a woodworker -- claim that scores of other consumers were likely duped, too. So they're sticking it to the corporation in the form of a class action suit, hoping to force the giant glue maker to reimburse potentially thousands of customers the roughly $4 they spent on the popular household product.
"It just doesn't seem right to be selling things with false advertising," said one of the plaintiffs, Oakland County resident Barbara Cavendish, a retired French and Spanish teacher who said the lawsuit is about principle, not money.
"They basically lied, and to me that's not a frivolous thing -- to be lying to consumers," said Cavendish, who bought a tube of Krazy Glue in October to affix some handles to a wooden pantry door. "It said on the front, 'good for metal and wood.' And so I took that home and I just could not glue it. I would hold it for 30 seconds, and it would fall off. ... I thought, 'Maybe I'm nuts.' "
Then she saw the tiny print.
"Eventually, I looked on the back of the package and it said, 'not for wood,' " said Cavendish, who later shared her story with her lawyer son-in-law.
In April, six months after buying the glue, she filed her class action -- an act that surprised her children, she said.
"It's not the kind of thing that I would do. I'm more of a quiet person," Cavendish said. "But this just sort of bothered me, stringing me along and other people, too."
"Barb's not looking to get rich off this," said Cavendish's lawyer, Mark Wasvary. "She was frustrated by the advertising."
Attorneys for Elmer's declined comment, citing pending litigation. The case is pending before U.S. District Judge John Corbett O'Meara, who gave both sides until December to put together their facts.
Packaging was changed
In court documents, the company has denied any wrongdoing, saying that it already has addressed and corrected the packaging issue and the package in question is no longer being marketed. According to a filing by Elmers, the Krazy Glue package was changed in October 2010, and the words "wood" and "leather" were deleted from the package.
"Defendants deny that they made any material misrepresentation," lawyers for Elmers wrote in court documents.
But the plaintiffs note that they bought their glue from separate Detroit-area JoAnn Fabrics locations after the package was changed: Cavendish in 2012 and the woodworker in January. They contend that Elmers is still responsible for the potentially thousands of Krazy Glue packages that were never yanked off the shelves.
Advertising law expert Ronald Urbach said the case poses a unique issue for the courts.
"The interesting question here is going to be, 'Is this lying? Or, is this a scenario where someone just made a mistake?' " Urbach said, adding: "It does appear on the surface to be a mistake."
But that doesn't mean the lawsuit won't stick, said Urbach, a New York advertising attorney who sits on the legal affairs committee for the American Association of Advertising Agencies. He said the first hurdle for the plaintiffs is to get class action status, which hasn't happened yet. That involves proving to the courts that large numbers of people all suffered the same harm or had the same experience with a product. It's often a tough hurdle to clear in class actions, he noted.
If the case does proceed as a class action, Elmers could either fight it and win, settle by reimbursing class members the money they paid for the glue - in this case, the lawyers get a third of any settlement award, he said - or the company could issue a recall ordering all old packages be yanked from the shelves.
Whatever happens, Urbach said, the class action lawsuit should serve as a warning to the business community.
"You have to be careful because consumers really pay attention," Urbach said. "This is another in a line of cases where marketers have to be extremely careful in what they say ... even in a situation where there may be an error there could still be liability."
While Krazy Glue has not been hit with false advertising claims until now, the product has been the source of litigation and sometimes humorous controversy over the last decade. In Colorado, for example, a shopper sued Home Depot in 2005 claiming he got stuck to a restroom toilet seat after a prankster rubbed it with glue. He blamed the store, not the glue maker.
Similar incidents have been reported across the country, most recently in Liberty Township, Ohio, where police responded to a call May 31 about a woman who was stuck to a toilet seat smeared with glue in a Walmart. A similar incident happened a year ago in Kentucky, where another woman reported getting stuck to a toilet at a Walmart.
But will the Krazy Glue litigation stick in Detroit?
Troy attorney Craig Becker hopes so. He is representing the woodworker in the Krazy Glue lawsuit and thinks class actions are the ideal remedy for consumers who have been wronged.
"When a wrong is done multiple times, each wrong may be small," Becker said, noting it's not feasible to sue over one $4 glue tube. "But when you add them all together, it's not a nuisance suit."