Thousands seek compensation for ‘toxic sofas’

Thousands of consumers who bought leather sofas from a number of retailers are claiming compensation after suffering serious chemical burns to their skin.

Fifteen retailers including Argos , Land of Leather, Walmsleys and Homebase are facing a compensation battle after almost 200,000 leather sofas were sold in Britain containing a highly toxic chemical. The sofas were sold for around £600 – £800.

The fungicide Dimethylfumerate, commonly known as DMF was placed inside the sofas by the manufacturers in China to protect the leather from mould during exportation to Europe. The fine white powder was placed in sachets inside the sofas, but when heated the chemical evaporates into peoples skin. Even small amounts of the fungicide can be harmful.

The sofas caused fierce allergic reactions in people of all ages. A number required emergency hospital treatment for serious burns. Other symptoms caused by the sofas are blisters, sores, rashes, and eye irritation. It has been claimed it can also cause blood poisoning and has even proven to be fatal. Many victims of the ‘toxic sofas’ sought medical help but were simply told they had an aggravated form of eczema. As they did not know the root of their problems was their furniture, sufferers simply carried on sitting on the sofas, further aggravating their condition.

The mystery, however, was solved by a dermatologist Sandra Winhoven in Liverpool. After hearing of an increasing number of patients presenting similar problems, the doctor discovered that they had all recently purchased leather furniture, which had been packed with chemical sachets in China. She then tested the contents of one of the sachets on her own skin, which quickly reacted.

Many people discovered where their symptoms came from after an episode of Watchdog, the consumer affairs programme, was broadcast on BBC1. Several law firms who realised that many more thousand of people could be entitled to compensation, advertised in newspapers, warning of the dangers of this furniture.

Even after the discovery of the faulty furniture, retailers carried on selling it without sufficient warnings and refused to recall the furniture. One customer who is well aware of the health problems caused by her purchase is Yvonne Dalton. She bought a leather sofa from Argos in April 2007. Roughly a year later she developed a rash on her arms and legs. In the space of a few weeks her rash worsened until her skin began to flake off, she says her condition got so bad she had to be off work for over two months. She was seen by several doctors who could not diagnose her illness.

Another victim of the toxic sofa is Archie Lloyd-Bennett, who was just two-weeks old when he developed a severe reaction to the chemical in the sofas. He had painful burning blisters all over his body after lying on the sofa in just his nappy. He was taken to Birmingham Children’s Hospital after his mother found him covered in blood from scratching his injuries. His problems are traced to a sofa bought from Land of Leather in 2005. His mother Rebecca said: “He was red raw after lying on the sofa in his nappy. He has been in agony. It is very itchy and he now wears gloves to stop him scratching.” The poison even affected her dog Kes, whose fur fell out requiring £1,000 in vet’s treatments. The full-time mum said she was snubbed when she asked for an exchange at the store in Solihull.

Another family claim that the chemical claimed the lives of one woman’s husband, son and pet cat, after they all died from severe allergic reactions. All of the cases mentioned have filed compensation claims against the retailers responsible.

After hearing of the tragedies concerned with the furniture, the EU have stepped in with new legislation which bans the use of Dimethylfumerate. It considers DMF to be so harmful to consumers that it is bringing in the legislation in May requiring all retailers to recall from sale any goods which contain the chemical, and to stop any more from coming into shops. EU Consumer Affairs Commissioner, Meglena Kuneva, said: “We are absolutely certain that the minor quantities of this product DMF in leather sofas or shoes could cause a terrible allergy and even death. It is very, very serious, we will not compromise on safety.”

A spokesman for Argos said: “Over the last 18 months there have been issues regarding certain sofas manufactured by a company in China which were supplied to Argos and a number of other retailers. This issue is currently the subject of a group litigation order so we are unable to comment on individual cases. Argos no longer sells the products.”

Judges at London’s High Court are now expected to order the high-street stores to payout more than £10 million in compensation and legal costs after the stores have admitted liability. According to lawyers it is: “The largest group compensation claim ever seen in the British Courts.” More than 1600 people are involved in the claim, and lawyers are claiming that tens of thousands more people will have been affected by the toxic furniture, without being aware of it.


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