Cracking, peeling leather furniture frustrates retired Indianapolis woman

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- CBS4 Problem Solvers stepped in to help a woman who said her furniture began falling apart just a few years after she bought it.

Cheryl Sellars thought she'd own the leather furniture for a long time, so she said she was baffled when the red material covering her couch and two recliners began cracking, then peeling away.

"This furniture looks like I've had it about 20 years or so," Sellars said.

Sellars bought the pieces from L Fish Furniture on the far east side in 2013. They're made from bonded leather, a less expensive leather option where pieces of material are formed together in the manufacturing process. She said the salesman sold her by demonstrating the furniture's durability.

"He took an ink pen out of his pocket ... and he began to poke the furniture and press down on it," Sellars said.

The furniture didn't budge under the weight of his pressing, so Sellars said she took his advice and bought the furniture, along with a five-year warranty. She was retiring for medical reasons and under dialysis at the time, so she planned to spend a lot of time sitting in the recliners because of her health.

"I was happy. It was comfortable, I loved it," Sellars said.

Then, last year, Sellars said the furniture began to peel. She reached out to her warranty company, but they quickly denied her claim. In the warranty paperwork, under manufacturer quality issues, the company says it does not cover "cracking and peeling of leather or vinyl." Sellars found out the hard way that her damage was only covered under the first year of the manufacturers' warranty.

"It's not that it was damaged. It's defective," Sellars said.

CBS4 Problem Solvers looked into Sellars' furniture and found it is made by Southern Motion, a company out of Mississippi. The company holds a "B" with the Better Business Bureau, where consumers have filed 39 complaints in the last three years.

According to court records, two cases out of Florida have challenged the quality of Southern Motion's furniture. One class action lawsuit, in which lawyers subpoenaed Southern Motion but did not name them in the suit itself, questions bonded leather furniture itself. That suit is still active in federal court.

In 2015, a popular Florida furniture company sued Southern Motion directly. The lawsuit claimed "Southern Motion's bonded leather furniture peels, flakes and deteriorates so rapidly that the company has been forced to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars repairing the furniture" and "in 2013 alone, it received over 1,000 complaints of defects." The parties settled the lawsuit out of court.

"I'm seriously saying, why is this furniture falling apart like this?" Sellars said.

Sellars didn't receive answers to her question, but she did see action after CBS4 Problem Solvers got involved. The manager of L Fish Furniture, who said the company has long done business with Southern Motion and rarely had complaints, contacted Sellars and agreed to refund her the full amount for all of her furniture.

Sellars received a check and said she planned to buy new furniture, but this time she would choose differently.

"I'm just really pleased to get my money back so I can purchase some furniture," Sellars said. "I'm not going to buy any bonded leather."

CBS4 Problem Solvers reached out to Southern Motion through their website, but did not hear back.

L Fish Furniture's manager sent us this full explanation of the company's stance on Sellars' case:

"We have come to an agreement to refund Ms. Sellars in full for the out of warranty issue and let her keep the merchandise. Ms. Sellars has agreed to this resolution. The manufacturer warranty is passed on to the customer at time of purchase. Fabric or material is always a one year warranty from the manufacturer.

Ms. Sellars received her purchase February 13, 2013. She contacted the store April 2014 to get the phone number for Guardsman Warranty Company. The outside warranty company denied the claim in January 2015. L. Fish Furniture was not contacted again from Ms. Sellars until August 2017. The issue was out of warranty in 2015, but had contact been made Southern Motion may have processed a courtesy claim and the parts may have been available to repair the product. Southern Motion has always worked well with our Service Department to resolve any product issues. Unfortunately, the customer waited an extended period of time to notify and the product was no longer available at the factory."

If you have a problem you'd like CBS4 Problem Solvers to consider, contact us at 317-677-1544 or ProblemSolvers@cbs4indy.com.

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