Whoever conjured up the phrase “toxic Chinese drywall” must have been prescient. No other word could describe the havoc that’s been caused so far by a single product that, in the total scheme of things, was used for a limited time within a certain geographical range. Yet the damage keeps spreading like a mushroom cloud, and some LBM dealers say they doubt they can outrun it. It’s only a matter of time before someone sues them, regardless of whether they sold drywall or where it came from.
So far, most of the large pro dealers, as well as Home Depot and Lowe’s, have been named as defendants in various Chinese drywall lawsuits. Smaller independents have been swept up too, along with the trades. “I got a call today from a Mississippi guy who said, ‘All I did was hang some drywall!’ ” recalled Bob Fitzsimmons, who is defending a large group of installers and contractors in one federal lawsuit. “People are finding out every day that they’re getting sued.”
Fitzsimmons is part of a federal multi-district litigation, or MDL, case that is seeking class-action status. His complaint was filed in the Eastern District of Louisiana against manufacturer Knauf Plasterboard Tianjin, and it lists the following as additional defendants: ProBuild, Stock Building Supply, 84 Lumber, Home Depot, Lowe’s and a number of smaller lumberyards in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. L&W Supply, the distribution arm of U.S. Gypsum, is also named.
The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation has approved the transfer of all federal Chinese drywall claims to the New Orleans court. Others have already been settled, are in negotiations or have won awards from sympathetic juries.
One Miami jury awarded $2.4 million in damages last July to the owners of a home built with imported drywall purchased through Banner Supply Co. and manufactured by Plasterboard Tianjin. Earlier in April, seven Virginia families were awarded $2.6 million in damages and repair costs when they sued Taishan Gypsum Co., another Chinese manufacturer. Collecting from Chinese companies is expected to prove very difficult, however.
Lowe’s has offered $6.5 million to settle a class-action lawsuit filed in a Georgia state court. The attorneys who negotiated the deal will receive a separate payment of $2.1 million. Customers who purchased drywall from Lowe’s—approximately 40 have been identified so far, but that number should grow—will be