BIRMINGHAM, AL – The average person sleeps for eight hours a day, which translates to a total of nearly 230,000 hours – or 1/3 of their life time – lying in a bed. And when you’re devoting that much of your existence to lying in the same spot night after night, you hope that spot is at the very least not detrimental to your health.
The Environmental Litigation Group (ELG), a law firm based out of Birmingham, Alabama, helps victims of toxic exposure. Currently, they’re participating in an ongoing lawsuit against mattress manufacturer Zinus, whom they allege has negligently produced mattresses responsible for damage to both their customers’ health and property.
ELG also claims that not only did Zinus fail to adequately warn consumers about what the firm considers a defect, but they also fraudulently concealed the problem, and then continued to issue denials after the problem was revealed.
“That was negligent of them,” said Chandler Duncan, an attorney at ELG. “We have property damage, we have personal injuries, and we need recovery for all of those things.”
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ELG was founded in 1990 by Bill Lewis, a tax attorney whose steelworker father had passed away from mesothelioma caused by asbestos exposure; this inspired him to start a law firm that initially focused on asbestos-related cases, but soon ELG expanded to cover all a variety of toxic exposure-related cases.
While ELG will occasionally represent individual clients, they specialize in mass tort litigation and/or community exposure cases which typically involve groups of people; cases that affect real change in many people’s lives, Duncan said, which is the goal ELG that pursues each and every day.
“All the attorneys at this office are very committed to a personal approach. We are aware that we’re representing large groups of people, but we’re also aware of each individual case,” she said. “I think all of us have had family members or friends who have been victims of some sort of environmental exposure, whether we know about it or not. We all know someone who’s passed away from cancer or who had some sort of illness that could have been caused by an environmental exposure, so it gives us a passion for serving our clients, being compassionate with them, and efficiently rectifying their case.”
Duncan, despite only practicing law since April of 2021, nonetheless already holds an impressive degree of experience in the field. A former pre-med student who switched over to law school, she had previously interned for ELG for over two years; in addition to possessing a Law Degree also holds a Master’s Degree in Public Health with a focus on Environmental Health, making her a perfect fit to help fulfill ELG’s mission.
“This type of law is special to me, and my education is a great foundation for what we do here,” she said. “I wanted to help people who were being underserved in their communities, and that’s exactly what we do at ELG. It’s extremely rewarding.
ELG is currently in the earliest stages of their lawsuit against Zinus, Duncan noted, with the case involving multiple people who have allegedly either experienced personal injury or damages to their home as a direct result of the company’s product.
“Zinus has been manufacturing mattresses since 2004, and multiple users have been injured by exposure to their mattresses. A class action lawsuit was filed in the spring of 2020,” she said. “Currently, the lawsuit is awaiting class certification, which means the court is deciding if a class action is the best way to manage all of the claims involved, or if they all need to be tried individually, which obviously would not be the most efficient way to handle this.”
The injuries to both person and property experienced by customers of Zinus are allegedly as a result of fiberglass that the company uses in their mattresses to act as a flame retardant. While using fiberglass in this manner is not unheard of in the mattress industry, the issue with the Zinus’ mattresses involves a mattress cover that, if removed, can result in exposure and the spreading of fiberglass matter throughout a customer’s home.
“Each mattress involved in this litigation has a mattress cover on it, and that cover has a zipper. While the zipper does say ‘do not remove mattress cover,’ it does not specify why,” she said. “However, the presence of a zipper [subconsciously] tells people that the mattress cover can indeed be removed, and many people did so in order to wash it. And in removing the cover, they were exposed to the fiberglass in the mattress. These are small glass fibers that are extremely messy and hard to clean up, and they can obviously be very damaging to both your health and your property. So this is not only an injury lawsuit against Zinus, but a property damage one as well.”
Duncan notes that many of ELG’s clients were forced to move out of their homes and many had to throw away all of their possessions due to fiberglass exposure from the Zinus mattresses. Companies specifically licensed to conduct fiberglass cleanup must be brought in at great cost, resulting in a very complex – and expensive – series of hurdles to overcome to render the customer’s home livable once again.
But the health issues that can be encountered as a result of fiberglass exposure can perhaps be even more vexing. According to the CDC, the tiny particles of glass harm the eyes, skin, and the lungs. While fiberglass itself is not carcinogenic, it can causing cuts and irritation; when inhaled, it can cause serious lung issues such as scarring, coughing, bronchitis, asthma and more. Cornea damage can occur if fiberglass gets into an individual’s eyes, and stomach and GI tract issues can be encountered if it is swallowed after being inhaled.
“There’s a long list of potential health effects when you’re exposed to fiberglass,” Duncan said. “Some of the issues can be immediate, but some of them can have long-lasting impacts as well if not treated. Some of these injuries can be permanent, and lung damage, especially in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, can be especially serious and result in extraordinarily costly medical bills.”
ELG is involved in the lawsuit against Zinus – along with several other firms – simply because it was the right thing to do, Duncan said.
“A lot of these people don’t really have any other resources, and they need somebody to look out for them. They need advocacy,” she said. “Many of us here at this firm have a science-based background, so we understand fiberglass contamination, including how expensive the cleanup process can be. But we also understand the medical issues that are associated with fiberglass exposure as well, which can be equally, if not more costly. So this is just something that we have to do to help these consumers who have been wronged.”
Duncan also noted that if anyone has discovered that they have been using one of the Zinus mattresses in question and have indeed been exposed to fiberglass as a result, she encourages them to contact ELG to see if they would be eligible to become a part of the suit.
As for the potential outcome of the case itself, Duncan said that the firm is hoping to recover whatever damages have been suffered by their clients – both physically and in terms of their property – and to also compel Zinus to address the issue of customers being able to remove the mattress cover from their mattresses to begin with.
“There are other companies that weave glass fibers into their mattresses to make them fire retardant, and it’s well-known that fiberglass can be hazardous to people if they’re exposed to it,” Duncan said. “The main difference with Zinus and their mattresses is the presence of the zipper. It’s kind of interesting how huge cases like this can come down to a detail as tiny as that. After all, you don’t put a zipper on something if you never want someone to remove it, especially when it’s harmful to their health.”
According to the lawsuit, retailers Amazon.com, eBay, Target, Walmart and Wayfair, are also named as defendants.
The Published Reporter reached out to Zinus for a statement on the pending lawsuit.
“Zinus provides quality products to our customers, and we take all customer feedback very seriously. The material that we use to comply with fire safety regulations, and protect the consumer, is standard in the mattress industry. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has found that this material is “not considered hazardous.” All Zinus product owners should refer to the FAQ page on our company website, which addresses many common questions, including proper care and handling of mattress covers.”Zinus spokesperson
“We have over 200 plaintiffs in all 50 states and people are realizing they’re not alone on this.” said Attorney Lloyd Cueto, with Cueto Law, who is also participating in the litigation.
To find out more about the Environmental Litigation Group, or to contact them if you feel you’ve been a victim a fiberglass exposure from a Zion mattress, please call 205-328-9200 or visit https://www.elglaw.com.
Editor’s note: This story was updated on September 2, 2021 to include a statement provided by a Zinus spokesperson which was originally not available at press time yesterday.