Defective Chinese Drywall Still Besets Many Homeowners

Posted December 7, 2011 in Consumer Law Products Liability by Arthur Buono

Corrosion of evaporator coils by defective drywall (via Wikimedia Commons)

Corrosion of evaporator coils by defective drywall (via Wikimedia Commons)

Defective Chinese drywall has plagued the American homeowner since it was first used in new home construction in the last decade. In November, the Associated Press reported a proposed partial settlement involving the remediation of up to 1,500 homes contaminated by defective Chinese drywall. The settlement reimburses builders who’ve repaired affected homes and funds the scheduled repair of others.

Reading this, you might think the enormous problem of Chinese drywall was a thing of the past, or at least coming to conclusion.

Thousands of Homes Still Tainted, Homeowners Awaiting Compensation

Unfortunately that’s not the case for thousands of homeowners. Many have not had their homes cleansed of this toxic time bomb. Many haven’t yet figured out that their homes are tainted.

C. David Durkee

C. David Durkee

So says David Durkee, a patner in the Florida firm Roberts & Durkee, and a leader in Chinese drywall litigation. Durkee practices at what might be called the Ground Zero of the Chinese drywall catastrophe. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s Drywall Information Center, more than half of the nearly 4,000 reports of defective Chinese drywall come from Florida. 

Defective Chinese drywall has been reported in 42 states in all geographic regions. It’s a safe bet it was installed throughout the United States. It seems to have wreaked most havoc in a band from Virginia south through the Gulf states. At least this is where over 90 percent of all complaints have arisen.

It’s generally believed that the drywall becomes most damaging when exposed to the combination of heat and humidity common to this region. The defective drywall contains abnormal concentrations of sulfur. When exposed to heat and humidity this releases a corrosive gas that attacks metal and electrical equipment. The fumes, which observers noticed immediately when investigating complaints, are noxious and cause immediate respiratory problems.

The “Symptomology” of a Contaminated Home

Defective drywall claims by state (CPSC)

Defective drywall claims by state (CPSC)

Durkee believes that public awareness of the problem still lags the official studies and the ongoing litigation. “I continue to receive calls from homeowners who are just now realizing their homes are contaminated,” he says. “They’ve replaced their central air conditioning, seen the replacement fail, and seen its replacement fail, and now they realize there’s something wrong inside the house that’s causing this.”

Durkee notes that repeated, unexplained and widespread failures of home electrical and mechanical equipment are telltale signs of defective drywall. This is part of the “symptomology” of a sick home caused by defective drywall.

It’s Not Just the Homes that Are Sick

Since these problems gained widespread attention in 2008, much of the focus – including Durkee’s – has been on remediation and compensation for property damage. Not to be overlooked however are the health problems associated with exposure to the fumes this drywall emits. Durkee has one such case set for trial in Palm Beach County early next year.

The home of Ricardo and Aliuska Dabalsa was built with defective drywall, unbeknownst to them. Their children, eight and five years old, suffered repeated respiratory illnesses for two years before the Dabalsas found out why. They moved the children to safety as soon as they learned the drywall was causing these ailments.

Durkee believes the Dabalsa case will be the first of its kind to reach a jury verdict anywhere in the country. “These children suffered for two years of their young lives,” he says. While their injuries don’t appear permanent, “that’s two years of misery and two years of their lives they can’t have back,” Durkee contends.

Aggressive Response to Catastrophic Damage

That’s not the only novel case among Durkee’s defective drywall portfolio. He’s recently asked for discovery in a case against United States Gypsum and its subsidiary, L&W Supply Corporation, who distributed defective drywall in this country for years. He claims USG and L&W new the drywall they supplied was defective from at least 2006. Yet, according to Durkee, they never undertook to inform anyone – from on down the supply chain, to homeowners, or government officials – of this.

Durkee claims USG and L&W had a duty to warn of this defect, a duty they owed to persons whose homes were built with this drywall.  It’s an aggressive approach. But Durkee says it’s a necessary approach given the magnitude of the harm – overall, and to each individual that’s suffered it. “The victims,” he notes, “are faultless, as faultless as any I’ve every represented.”

Art Buono co-authors the blog.

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