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Friday, June 14, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Chinese-Made Flooring Protests Gather Steam

(CN) - Lumber Liquidators faces a slew of class actions across the country accusing it of falsely advertising Chinese-made flooring that emits illegal levels of carcinogenic formaldehyde.

Eleven class actions in March, from California to Florida, claim Lumber Liquidators falsely advertises that its Chinese-made laminate flooring complies with state and federal formaldehyde limits.

But the products exceed state and federal standards by as much as 1,300 percent, according to a March 6 federal complaint in Sacramento, from which quotes for this article are taken.

This is not the first wave of class actions involving toxic wood products from China, though it is the first aimed specifically at Lumber Liquidators.

Dozens or hundreds of similar lawsuits were filed after Hurricane Katrina devastated the South in 2005. The Federal Emergency Management Agency spent $2 billion to house hurricane refugees in trailers, only to find that the Chinese-made wood laminates emitted illegal levels of formaldehyde. Many people became sick, and the prevalence of the toxic chemical complicated FEMA's enormous relief effort.

In the March 6 lawsuit in Sacramento, lead plaintiff Sara Latta claims that Lumber Liquidators "prominently advertises" that its Chinese flooring complies with "California's strict formaldehyde emission standards promulgated by the

California Air Resources Board," or CARB standards.

Latta claims that Lumber Liquidators advertises its Chinese wood products across the United States as compliant with California CARB standards.

The standards are codified in California's Airborne Toxic Control Measure to Reduce Formaldehyde Emissions from Composite Wood Products (CARB regulations).

California's standards have been adopted as the national standard by the Formaldehyde Standards for Composite-Wood Products Act, 15 U.S.C. § 2697, according to the complaint.

But Lumber Liquidators knew or should have known that Chinese wood products are unsafe, Latta says in the 34-page lawsuit. The Hardwood Plywood and Veneer Association Environmental International acknowledges it, Latta claims.

China puts so much formaldehyde in wood that "more than 65 percent of the Chinese formaldehyde output is used to produce resins mainly found in wood products," the complaint states, citing a 2010 report in the journal Environmental Science.

The complaint extensively cites a March 1 story on "60 Minutes" that Lumber Liquidators' advertising claims. "Sixty Minutes" reported that two environmental groups bought more than 150 boxes of Lumber Liquidators laminate flooring at stores throughout California and had them tested by certified labs.

"The results showed that 'every single sample of Chinese-made laminate flooring from Lumber Liquidators failed to meet California formaldehyde emissions standards. Many by a large margin,'" according to the complaint.

"Sixty Minutes" sent its own team to buy Chinese laminates from Lumber Liquidators stores in Virginia, Florida, Texas and New York, and sent them for testing to two certified labs.

"'It turns out of the 31 samples of Chinese-made laminate flooring, only one was compliant with formaldehyde emissions standards. Some were more than 13x over the California limit.' Both of the labs told '60 Minutes' that they had never seen formaldehyde levels that high," the complaint states, citing the "60 Minutes" report.

Latta seeks class certification, damages and punitive damages for breach of warranty, negligence, fraudulent misrepresentation, negligent misrepresentation, violation of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, fraudulent omission/concealment, false advertising, unfair competition and consumer law violations.

She is represented by Robert Ahdoot, with Adhoot & Wolfson, of West Hollywood.

A Lumber Liquidators spokesman told the Richmond (Calif.) Times-Dispatch on Friday: "It appears that many of the claims mimic contentions raised in a separate suit that was filed by a law firm that also represents a short-seller, which looks to benefit from decreases in our stock price, in another action against us. We believe in the safety of our products and intend to defend this suit vigorously." It also said that "60 Minutes" used "an improper test method."

Similar class actions have been filed this month in federal courts in Oklahoma, New Jersey, Florida, Illinois and North Carolina.

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