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Five-state lawsuit filed against Lumber Liquidators

Screen Shot 2015-09-21 at 1.54.02 PMToano, Va.—Charging Lumber Liquidators with fraudulently selling composite flooring that contains excessive and unlawful levels of formaldehyde, purchasers filed a representative complaint in federal court on behalf of classes of consumers in five states: California, Florida, Illinois, New York and Texas.

The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on Sept. 11, alleges that Lumber Liquidators sold Chinese-manufactured flooring that contained high levels of formaldehyde without disclosing that to purchasers. Instead, Lumber Liquidators falsely labeled their products as meeting or exceeding California Air Resources Board (CARB) formaldehyde emissions standards. This composite laminate flooring was sold nationwide under the brand name Lumber Liquidators Dream Home.

“These consumers believed that the flooring they purchased and installed in their homes, including in their children’s bedrooms, met product safety standards,” said Steven J. Toll, an attorney for Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC, which is representing the plaintiffs. “But independent testing found that the flooring was emitting levels of formaldehyde gas that exceeded emissions regulations.”

Formaldehyde, a common ingredient in the glue used in the base layer of composite laminate flooring, is often used to reduce manufacturing costs of that bottom layer. Exposure to formaldehyde for periods as brief as 15 minutes has been known to cause respiratory irritation, headaches, coughing, dizziness, nausea and other symptoms. Chronic and long-term exposure to formaldehyde is linked to increased risk of various forms of cancer, including lung cancer and leukemia, and can aggravate asthma in formaldehyde-sensitive individuals.

The lawsuit charges that from October 2013 through November 2014 three accredited laboratories tested the formaldehyde emissions of laminate wood flooring from several nationwide retail outlets, including Home Depot, Lowe’s and Lumber Liquidators. Using testing methods consistent with CARB regulations and with CARB-recommended standard operating procedures, the laboratories found laminate flooring made in China and sold by Lumber Liquidators contained by far the highest levels of formaldehyde—on average, 23 times higher than U.S.-manufactured products. The levels were several times the maximum CARB limits and exceeded the standards set by the federal Toxic Substances Control Act.

The complaint will serve as a bellwether for the 134 cases sent to the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Virginia, as part of Multi-District Litigation (MDL) against Lumber Liquidators. Plaintiffs seek restitution of money they spent on Lumber Liquidators flooring products plus damages.

This is the latest in a series of legal matters affecting Lumber Liquidators.

In May, Lumber Liquidators announced it was halting sales of all of its Chinese-made laminate flooring effective immediately. The move came amid dozens of lawsuits over the safety of the products, as well as looming criminal charges disclosed by the company concerning its foreign sourcing.

Last month, Lumber Liquidators disclosed in a regulatory filing that CARB found in preliminary testing that the laminate flooring it obtained in March contained levels of formaldehyde that exceeded the required limit.

The retailer is also facing criminal charges related to the import of certain wood products under the Lacey Act, which bans illegally sourced wood products. In 2013, federal agents raided the offices of Lumber Liquidators, investigating allegations that the company knowingly imported wood products illegally harvested in the Russian Far East.

That same year, the Environmental Investigation Agency released a report that detailed the extent and nature of illegal logging in the Russian Far East. It found that since the 2008 Lacey Act amendments became law, Lumber Liquidators has imported millions of square feet of solid oak flooring from a manufacturer that freely describes its own illegal logging practices and buys wood from suppliers that are under scrutiny by Russian authorities for illegal logging in the world’s most threatened temperate forest.