Since 2015, reports have emerged regarding laminate flooring containing unsafe levels of formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is a naturally-occurring compound used primarily for industrial production purposes. In the flooring industry, formaldehyde acts as an adhesive to bind wood chips or fibers into plywood and other pressed wood products. Unfortunately, formaldehyde is a known carcinogen that can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation, serious respiratory complications, and possibly cancer.
Formaldehyde exposure has become an increasing concern for homeowners who have had laminate flooring products installed in their house. Laminate flooring products are intended to last up to 20 years. With this repeated exposure in the homes, studies have shown high risks to children, the elderly, and those with respiratory diseases like asthma, but exposure has the potential to harm anyone. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control found that formaldehyde emissions from Chinese-made laminate flooring sold resulted in an increase of 6 to 30 cases of cancer per 100,000 persons.
In fact, several lawsuits have been filed against Eternity Flooring Solutions for selling Chinese-made laminate flooring and advertising that all their laminate flooring made in China complies with regulations limiting formaldehyde gas emissions. In North Carolina, many homeowners, or even businesses, may have purchased their laminate flooring from Lumber Liquidators. Lumber Liquidator is the largest, fastest-growing retailer of hardware flooring in North America. The company operates in nearly every state and generates revenue in excess of over a billion dollars a year. The company even has two locations in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Although based and incorporated in the United States, Lumber Liquidators uses Chinese manufacturing for much of its laminate flooring. The average level of formaldehyde in the contaminated products were 6-7 times above the state standard; some even 20 times above the legal limit. Since the reports have been released, Lumber Liquidators has stopped producing the laminate hardware containing excess levels of formaldehyde but many sources indicate that hundreds of thousands of homeowners and business still have laminate flooring installed that exceed the legal limit.
Exposure to formaldehyde may give rise to personal injury damages. These sort of cases are similar to those recoverable in any toxic exposure case—they fall under two broad categories: (i) special damages for past and future medical expenses and loss of wages, and (ii) general damages for pain and suffering. In the context of exposure to formaldehyde, like other toxic substances, the symptoms of the illness may not manifest themselves until years after the exposure. In this case, a person may live in fear that his or her exposure to the toxic substance will result in future medical conditions. As a result, an individual may incur medical expenses for future medical monitoring to permit early detection and treatment of maladies resulting from such exposure.
Courts have wrestled with the question of whether potential damages meet the requirements for recovering for future medical expenses. A seminal case on this matter (latent injuries in toxic tort cases) is Ayers v. Jackson Township, 106 N.J. 557(1987). In Ayers, the plaintiffs alleged their well-water had been contaminated as a results of the defendant’s negligent placement and operation of a municipal landfill. The plaintiffs claimed damages for the enhanced risk of future illness—specifically, expenses of annual medical examinations to monitor their physical health and detect early symptoms of disease. The court allowed the claim for medical surveillance expenses to go to the jury, and the jury awarded compensation for these expenses. The court held that the cost of medical surveillance is a compensable item of damages where the proofs demonstrate, through reliable expert testimony, that such surveillance is reasonable and necessary to monitor the effect of exposure to toxic chemicals.
It follows, even if you have not experienced any specific damages as a result of being exposed to formaldehyde, you may be able to seek compensation for the increase medical cost associated with monitoring your conditions.
The risks associated with exposure to formaldehyde go well beyond respiratory aggravation. There are also concerns that long-term exposure could lead to the development of neurological disorders, including Parkinson’s disease (a progressive and debilitating disorder of the nervous system) and Parkinsonism movement disorder. Most people notice symptoms when a slight tremor becomes stronger and more persistent. Other symptoms include: slowed movement, rigid muscles, impaired posture and balance, speech changes, and writing changes.
Although children are most susceptible to these long-term effects, the risks are also very high for floor installers and specialists who work (or have worked) with laminate products that have elevated levels of formaldehyde. Those who work in the flooring industry are constantly breathing fumes at potentially toxic levels. To make matters even more challenging, filing a workers’ compensation claim may lead to a number of roadblocks; or more commonly, you may simply find your injuries and illnesses result in more medical costs than anticipated.
Everyone deserves to work in a safe environment. Due to the misrepresentations and failure to warn of the unreasonably high risks of working with these unsafe products, there can be life-altering consequences.
If you or a loved one has laminate flooring and have experienced asthma-like symptoms or believe you have been exposed to high levels of formaldehyde, contact the skilled attorneys at Rosensteel Fleishman, PLLC to review your case. The initial consultation is completely free.