Toxic Sofa High Court Ruling ‘Raises Business And Safety Lessons’

Argos And Homebase To Reclaim Damages Over Chemical Exposure

13.06.2012

Significant safety and business lessons can be learned from the High Court judgment which will allow Argos and Homebase to reclaim damages owed to customers who have suffered illness following exposure to a chemical used to treat sofas.

It has been confirmed that the two high street retailers are to be reimbursed for such payments after it was deemed Leather Trade House – formerly BLC Leather Technology Centre – breached its contract with Argos and breached its duty towards both companies by using Dimethyl Fumarate (DMF) on leather furniture sold by the companies.

However, it was revealed that two other claimants, the Hampden Group and Argos Distributors (Ireland), had not adequately proved either breach of contract or breach of duty at common law and causation.

Nick Bates, regional managing partner of Irwin Mitchell’s Leeds office and expert in commercial litigation, said the case demonstrated the importance of businesses not only having excellent processes for ensuring compliance with their responsibilities, but also being able to clearly demonstrate how those processes have functioned and been applied.

He outlined: “This case is based around the suggestion that the defendant failed by advising the retailers that DMF, used as an anti-mould chemical, was safe for use in the packaging and also then failed to subsequently alert them when the dangers were highlighted.

“What Argos’s successful argument shows is that the retailer had taken all of the steps it could to prevent this kind of problem from emerging and should not have been held responsible for the failings which have led to illness and injury. On the other hand, businesses unable to satisfactorily demonstrate such processes remained liable for the initial failings of others.”

David Urpeth, a Partner at Irwin Mitchell who specialises in product liability claims, added: “This ruling once again emphasises how important it is for firms to ensure their products and the chemicals contained within are always safe and do not pose a risk to human health.

“A huge number of people have been affected by this issue and it is vital that the same mistakes are simply not made again.”

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