Ruling for seven Va. families could set the standard
A New Orleans federal judge on Thursday awarded seven Virginia families $2.6 million in damages for homes ruined by sulfur-emitting drywall made in China, a decision that could affect how lawsuits by thousands of other homeowners are settled.
It remains to be seen how the plaintiffs can collect from Chinese companies that do not have to respond to U.S courts, although some have talked about getting orders to seize U.S.-bound ships and cargoes from the drywall companies.
Thousands of homeowners, mostly in Florida, Virginia, Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana, have reported problems with the drywall, which was imported in large quantities during the housing boom and after a string of Gulf Coast hurricanes.
The drywall has been linked to corrosion of wiring, air conditioning units, computers, doorknobs and jewelry, along with possible health effects.
U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon ruled Thursday that the drywall should be removed and the plaintiffs’ homes should be gutted because of the ruinous effects of corrosion. He said all electrical wiring, the heating and air conditioning system, appliances, carpet, cabinetry, trim work and flooring damaged by corrosion will have to be removed.
Fallon’s decision was the first in a series of federal lawsuits brought against manufacturers, distributors, suppliers and homebuilders by thousands of homeowners, all of them claims that Fallon is presiding over. Separately, thousands of plaintiffs are pursuing claims in state courts.
Thursday’s ruling could set the standard for what needs to be done to make a tainted home fit to live in. Fallon’s guidelines went further than those put out by the Consumer Protection Safety Commission earlier this month. The CPSC called for removing the tainted drywall, electrical wiring, fire alarm systems and gas pipes.
“We got everything we asked for,” said Richard Serpe, an attorney for the Virginia plaintiffs. “This becomes a roadmap for any court that is going to consider how the litigation should go from here.”