Charleston area law firms have joined the rush to pursue class-action lawsuits against Lumber Liquidators, the nation’s largest specialty flooring company, which has seen declines in sales and stock market value following a recent “60 Minutes” report.
The March 1 news show alleged that Lumber Liquidators’ laminate flooring made in China contains potentially unsafe amounts of formaldehyde, despite being labeled as meeting California’s strict environmental standards. The company has insisted its products are safe and the report was unfair, and said it’s under attack by financial speculators who are betting that the company’s stock will fall.
A number of class-action complaints have been filed against the company, and on Thursday several local firms filed additional ones.
Mount Pleasant law firm Richardson Patrick Westbrook & Brickman and Charleston-based lawyer Mark Tanenbaum represent Charleston residents Adam and Julia White, who purchased Chinese-made laminate flooring from Lumber Liquidators’ West Ashley location in 2012, according to the complaint.
“If purchased at all, plaintiffs would have paid significantly less had they known that the Chinese Flooring contained elevated levels of the known toxin and carcinogen formaldehyde,” according to the federal lawsuit, which repeatedly cites the “60 Minutes” report.
In another complaint, also filed Thursday as a class action, the Charleston law firm Thurmond Kirchner Timbes & Yelverton represent Daniel Island residents Tara and Michael Sahn.
As in the White complaint, the Sahn complaint says the two plaintiffs “would have paid significantly less, assuming they purchased the Chinese Flooring at all, had they known that the products contained elevated levels of the toxin formaldehyde.”
A. Hoyt Rowell III of Richardson Patrick Westbrook & Brickman declined to comment about the complaint. Attempts to reach a representative for Lumber Liquidators on Friday were unsuccessful.
On Thursday, Lumber Liquidators said it will pay for the safety testing of laminate floors for qualifying customers who request it, to help ease concerns. Company CEO Rob Lynch said the indoor air quality test kits that customers will receive are the same quality used by federal officials to test workplace exposure.
The allegations about contaminated flooring products are reminiscent of scandals in 2007 involving other tainted products manufactured in China, including pet food that killed dogs and cats and prompted the largest-ever pet food recall, toothpaste contaminated with an anti-freeze ingredient, tainted food products, and child toys with excessive levels of lead. China responded by suppressing media coverage, and executed the nation’s former top food and drug regulator.
The best-known Chinese product scandal related to home construction products involved drywall containing excessive levels of sulfur. The drywall, installed in U.S. homes between 2001 and 2009, caused wiring and air conditioning systems to corrode and fail.
In class-action lawsuits, firms often will file a complaint naming only a few plaintiffs, then seek to represent all those with substantially the same complaint. When multiple class-action suits are filed over the same issue, they may be later consolidated into one.
In the Chinese pet food scandal, more than 100 class-action lawsuits in the U.S. and Canada were jointly settled in 2008 for $24 million, with aggrieved pet owners receiving just over half the money and the rest going to law firms, claims administration, and expenses.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Reach David Slade at 937-5552