As many as 2,000 people in the UK are to receive compensation after they received chemical burns from sofas made in China.
The sofas, manufactured by Chinese firms Linkwise and Eurosofa, contained an anti-fungal agent known as fungicidal chemical dimethyl fumarate, or DMF. The DMF was added to prevent the furniture from going mouldy while in storage.
When customers brought home the sofas, the solid agent turned into gas that burned through their clothes and onto their skin. People suffered severe skin and eye complaints and breathing difficulties among other medical conditions.
Up to 100,000 sofas were sold with DMF inside. The agent has since been banned by the European Union after cases emerged in at least four other member states.
The news came to light after a compensation case at Britain’s High Court in which the claimant’s lawyers said that some of them were afraid they would die from the incident.
“People’s lives were put on hold. Some people thought that they were dying, that they had skin cancer”, Richard Langton of law firm Russell Jones and Walker told the court in London.
“Their doctors couldn’t tell them what was wrong, a lot of psychological symptoms. Some cases were not so severe, fortunately, but for many people they say it was the worst period of their lives ever.”
The court was told that a group of British-based furniture stores that sold the sofas had agreed to pay out $30.5m to 2,000 victims of the toxic agent. The claimants are expected to get between $1,800 and $13,700 each from the settlement, which includes legal costs.
The judge was told that while the claims handling agreement did not solve all of the litigation, it would clear the way for hundreds of people to be compensated. Another 2,500 cases are set to be considered next month.
300 other customers lost out in an earlier ruling involving a furniture firm that went into administration in January 2009. That decision is expected to be appealed.