Three plaintiffs’ lawyers tapped to lead Lumber Liquidators MDL

August 6, 2015
Reuters Legal

A federal judge in Virginia has picked three class-action veterans to steer multi-district litigation that accuses Lumber Liquidators of selling flooring that contained dangerous levels of formaldehyde.

Steve Berman of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, Nancy Fineman of Cotchett Pitre & McCarthy and Steven Toll of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll will serve as co-lead counsel for plaintiffs, according to an order Wednesday from U.S. District Judge Anthony Trenga of the Eastern District of Virginia.

Berman, Fineman and Toll said in a joint statement Thursday that they were honored by their appointments and would begin working to organize the cases so they could be litigated in a “fair and efficient” manner.

The three attorneys will help steer growing litigation against Virginia-based Lumber Liquidators, which sells hardwood flooring products. The cases were sparked by a March 1 segment on TV news program “60 Minutes” that reported that certain flooring products made in China and labeled as complying with the California Air Resources Board’s limits on formaldehyde actually had illegal, unsafe levels of the substance.

Exposure to high levels of formaldehyde can irritate the eyes, nose and throat, and lead to long-term respiratory problems and increase a person’s risk of developing cancer.

The company is currently facing 135 lawsuits over the allegedly tainted flooring, primarily on behalf of consumers who said they were duped into buying a potentially harmful product. The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation consolidated the cases before Trenga in June.

The three attorneys selected by Judge Trenga as co-lead counsel all have extensive experience at the forefront of high-stakes litigation involving hundreds or thousands of plaintiffs.

Berman has been lead counsel in major consumer class actions over alleged defects in automobiles made by Toyota Motor Corp, which resulted in a $1.6 billion settlement in 2013, and by General Motors, which is currently ongoing. He has also represented plaintiffs suing Apple over alleged e-book price-fixing and Enron over employee retirement savings.

Toll has led numerous stock-fraud cases for plaintiffs. He steered a lawsuit against Countrywide over mortgage-backed securities to a $500 million settlement in 2013, as well as a $575 million settlement in a securities class action against Lucent Technologies in 2001. He is co-lead counsel in shareholder litigation against BP brought in connection with the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Fineman was counsel on a landmark public-nuisance lawsuit over alleged lead-paint contamination in thousands of California homes, which resulted in a $1.15 billion judgment against major paintmakers in 2014. She has also worked on cases involving the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme, HSBC overdraft fees and retail natural-gas prices in California.

In Wednesday’s order, Trenga declined, for now, to appoint a steering committee to support co-lead counsel’s efforts, and said he will further assess the need for such a committee at a later date.

The case is Lumber Liquidators Chinese-Manufactured Flooring Products Marketing, Sales Practices and Products Liability Litigation, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, No. 15-2627.

For the plaintiffs: Steve Berman of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, Nancy Fineman of Cotchett Pitre & McCarthy and Steven Toll of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll

For Lumber Liquidators: Diane Flannery of McGuireWoods and William Stern of Morrison & Foerster