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SYDNEY, June 16 (Reuters) - Australia's consumer watchdog has filed a lawsuit against Thermomix-maker Vorwerk Electorwerk's local distributor, alleging it failed to report injuries caused by a faulty product.
Thermomix in Australia, a Vorwerk distributor, was slow to disclose problems in 2014 with lid seals for the kitchen appliance, despite at least 14 customers suffering serious burns when lids failed and scalding hot liquid spilled on users, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) said in a statement on Friday.
The Thermomix, a kitchen gadget which chops and cooks food, is made by unlisted German home appliances maker Vorwerk Elektrowerke. It has been the flagship product of the family-owned Vorwerk since the 1970s when it was launched to turn out French-style thickened soups.
Sold by sales agents at tupperware-style parties, the product costing A$2,000 has earned a cult following and the company says sales have "steadily grown" through the 2000s to comprise nearly half the company's earnings.
"The law requires that suppliers must act to notify the ACCC as soon as they become aware of any person who has suffered a serious injury associated with the goods they have supplied," the watchdog's acting chairwoman, Delia Rickard, said in the statement.
The TM31 Thermomix model was recalled in 2014 because of the lid problems.
Thermomix in Australia Pty Ltd said it was aware of the watchdog's investigation and had "been cooperating fully with the ACCC and will continue to do so."
The company said it was not appropriate to comment further on a matter before the court. It faces fines of up to A$1.1 million ($835,000) for each breach of consumer law.
Consumer advocate group Choice in 2016 sent the ACCC a report documenting 87 injuries, mostly burns, suffered by Thermomix users.
The ACCC also alleges that in the course of the recall, Thermomix in Australia made "false and misleading statements" about safety of its products, and wrongly told customers they needed to sign non-disclosure forms to obtain refunds or replacements.
Thermomix sales rose 11 percent to "almost" 1.3 billion euros in 2016, with the product comprising nearly half of Vorwerk's total sales of 3.1 billion euros, company reports show.
$1 = 1.3177 Australian dollars Reporting by Tom Westbrook and Byron Kaye; Editing by Jacqueline Wong