With thousands of homeowners claiming their houses and health are deteriorating from sulfur-emitting Chinese drywall, a federal judge in New Orleans is intent on fast-tracking a handful of cases for trial, attorneys say.
The first of these bellwether lawsuits could be tried by the end of the year, a timetable that encourages homeowners to think settlement. In contrast, drywall maker and defendant Knauf Plasterboard Tianjin welcomes home inspections and is investigating “practical solutions” but denies any health effects from its drywall.
About 600 tainted Chinese drywall lawsuits have been consolidated in multidistrict litigation under U.S. District Judge Eldon E. Fallon for pretrial issues. With the help of plaintiff and defense steering committees, Fallon will select five cases to test the waters.
“He is moving extremely fast, which is the right thing because people are living in homes that are toxic to them,” said Victor Diaz, a partner at Podhurst Orseck in Miami and a member of the MDL plaintiff steering committee.
Homeowner attorneys see the past as a guide. Fallon supervised the $4.85 billion Merck settlement in Vioxx cases, one of the largest pharmaceutical settlements on record. It was reached only after plaintiffs, who claimed the withdrawn painkiller caused heart attacks and strokes, lost a series of jury trials.
Fallon has ordered each side to select 10 cases to jump start the process of turning over documents and other information. He has said the initial trials most likely will involve claims limited to property damage as opposed to personal injury.
The plaintiff bar has been in a feeding frenzy on Chinese drywall litigation, filing a litany of lawsuits in federal and state courts, naming Chinese drywall manufacturers as well as developers, builders, subcontractors and suppliers.
In the drywall cases, KPT said Fallon’s inspection order and a requirement that all claimants fill out fact sheets “will substantially narrow the scope of the litigation and finally put to rest the speculation as to the number of homes that are impacted by Chinese drywall.”
About 500 million pounds of Chinese drywall was imported during the U.S. housing boom from 2004 to 2007, meaning as many as 100,000 homes could contain the tainted material, plaintiffs claim.
KPT and sister companies in China are related to Germany’s building materials maker Knauf Group. Whether plaintiff attorneys can tap into the German company’s deep pockets will be major point of contention.
Some U.S. drywall makers have been named as defendants in a few lawsuits, and KPT claims other Chinese manufacturers supplied U.S. builders as well.
The personal injury aspect also is a significant issue because some residents complained of respiratory problems such as asthma as well as headaches, rashes and other ailments, he said.
Diaz said. The Environmental Protection Agency, Consumer Product Safety Commission and state Health Department are conducting drywall investigations.
Telltale signs of trouble to many owners is the smell of rotten eggs and corrosion, especially in appliances like air conditioning units. Some of the Chinese drywall has been found by plaintiff experts to contain biological material that decays, especially in humid climates, and reacts with gypsum or other materials that should not be present.
Homes with Chinese drywall have been found throughout the nation, but plaintiff attorneys say the epicenter for problem homes is Florida.
At present, the cases have been consolidated in front of Fallon for pretrial purposes. Trials would be conducted where the cases were filed unless the parties agree to have them litigated in New Orleans.
If you or a family member has been personally injured because of the fault of someone else: by the use of dangerous drugs, bad products, or toxic injury etc then please contact the Fort Worth Texas Product Liability Attorney Dr. Shezad Malik. For a no obligation, free case analysis, please call 817-255-4001 or Contact Me Online.