'Toxic' sofa victims to receive £20m payout

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The Independent Online

Hundreds of customers who suffered from skin rashes caused by "toxic" sofas are to receive a total of up to £20m in compensation.

Around 1,650 victims contracted various health problems after buying the Chinese-made leather sofas from Argos, Walmsley, Homebase and Land of Leather.

The sofas, manufactured by Linkwise and Eurosofa, contained the "highly sensitising" chemical dimethyl fumarate, or DMF, which has subsequently been banned by the EU. Insurers acting for the retailers will pay the victims between £1,175 and £9,000 depending on the severity of their symptoms.

In what is believed to be the largest consumer group litigation in UK legal history, more than 4,000 customers allege they suffered painful medical complaints due to the presence of DMF in the sofas.

In the case of the 1,650 victims, Argos, Walmsley, Homebase and Land of Leather admitted liability, but in 3,000 cases, allegedly involving more severe injuries, liability remains in dispute. These victims claim to have suffered severe skin or eye complaints, breathing difficulties or other medical complications after exposure to the chemical.

The payout was announced at the High Court in London, where Mr Justice MacDuff was told that a claims handling agreement had been reached which could "potentially benefit" between 1,500 and 2,000 claimants.

Richard Langton, senior litigation partner at law firm Russell Jones & Walker, who led the group litigation against the retailers, said after the hearing: "Many suffered serious health problems, simply because of the sofa they chose. At the start there was a real fear factor as nobody knew the cause.

"The doctors took nine months to identify the chemical. Some people thought they had skin cancer or were dying. We believe many sofas are still in use with DMF in them. Anyone who develops symptoms should seek urgent medical advice."