Consumers file class action lawsuit against Lumber Liquidators over formaldehyde in Chinese flooring

by Charles Miller

A proposed class action lawsuit has been filed in a Virginia federal court against Lumber Liquidators regarding wood flooring materials that were imported from China. The lawsuit alleges that Lumber Liquidators engaged in a scheme to import into the United States, and to falsely advertise and sell, Chinese flooring that fails to comply with relevant and applicable formaldehyde standards. The complaint asserts that Lumber Liquidators manufactures, sells, and distributes Chinese flooring that emits and off-gasses excessive levels of formaldehyde and misrepresents to the public that the flooring complies with applicable standards.

Formaldehyde is categorized as a known human carcinogen by the United States National Toxicology Program and the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Wood flooring can contain formaldehyde because formaldehyde is often used in the adhesives and resins used to make engineered wood floors. Formaldehyde can be released into the air (through a process called “off-gassing”) from wood flooring materials. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, pressed-wood (i.e., hardwood plywood, particleboard, and medium-density fiberboard (“MDF”)) and woodbased products, especially those containing urea-formaldehyde (or “UF”) resins, may be “a significant formaldehyde source.”

The plaintiffs claim that “Lumber Liquidators has knowingly and intentionally engaged in a scheme to source, manufacture, sell, and distribute falsely advertised Chinese Flooring that emits excessively high levels of formaldehyde.” The proposed class action also accuses Lumber Liquidators of selling wood flooring that is illegally sourced through China from other countries (including Russia), threatening critical habitat and endangered species, in violation of the Lacey Act. The lawsuit alleges that customers paid too much because the Chinese flooring at issue “is markedly less valuable because of its elevated level of formaldehyde as well as having been sourced illegally in violation of the Lacey Act.” “Plaintiffs would have paid significantly less,” the complaint charges, “if they purchased Chinese Flooring at all, had they known that the products were sourced from endangered habitats and contained elevated levels of the toxin formaldehyde.”

One of the plaintiffs is Donnie Williamson of Florida. In December 2012, Williamson purchased Mayflower Birch brand flooring directly from Lumber Liquidators. Plaintiff Melissa Stini of Texas had Morningstar Bamboo flooring from Lumber Liquidators installed in her home in August 2013. Another plaintiff, Jennifer Hogencamp of Massachusetts, purchased Dream Home – St. James 12 mm Blacksburg Barn Board brand flooring from Lumber Liquidators in February 2011. The plaintiffs each allege that, at the time of their purchases, Lumber Liquidators falsely represented and warranted the flooring to be compliant with strict formaldehyde standards, as well as that the flooring was manufactured in compliance with the Lacey Act.

Lumber Liquidators is one of the largest specialty retailers of hardwood flooring in the United States. In 2012, Lumber Liquidators had over 1,400 employees and revenue of over $800 million. The lawsuit alleges that “one of the primary reasons Lumber Liquidators has grown so quickly and its profits have surged has been through the Company’s misrepresentations about the formaldehyde levels of its products and through its sourcing of cheap (and illegal) lumber from China.”

According to the complaint, Lumber Liquidators’ marketing materials, including the company’s website, specifically represent to consumers that its flooring products comply with the formaldehyde emission regulations propounded by CARB and, indeed, comply with even stricter European Union formaldehyde standards. However, “[c]ontrary to Lumber Liquidators’ repeated, detailed representations and warranties, however, its Chinese Flooring products off-gas formaldehyde at the time of purchase at levels that far exceed the standards propounded by CARB and the EU,” claims the lawsuit.

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by Charles Miller

Charles Miller is a licensed attorney and a partner at Heygood, Orr & Pearson. Charles focuses his practice on areas of complex commercial litigation and personal injury litigation.