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Chinese Drywall Debacle Sparks Lawsuits

Jan 1, 2009 Problems with defective Chinese drywall in Florida have led to two separate lawsuits.  Late last week,  the Bonita Springs law firm of Parker Waichman LLP filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of Florida consumers whose homes were ruined by the defective Chinese drywall.  Meanwhile, Miami-based Lennar Homes, the builder at the center of many drywall complaints, has  sued the manufacturer of the material, as well as the supplier and contractors who installed it.

Over the past several months, owners of newer homes in South Florida have been complaining of drywall that smells like rotten eggs. In several cases, they have had to leave their home because the smell was so bad.  In addition to the putrid smell, many South Florida homeowners have reported problems with air conditioning and other systems that are likely related to the defective Chinese drywall.  Some spent hundreds - even thousands of dollars - to have air conditioning, pipes and wiring repaired.

Usually, drywall is manufactured in the United States, but a shortage between 2004 and 2006 prompted many builders to buy drywall from China.  Most of the reported problems stem from drywall imported from China during Florida’s construction boom years of 2004-2005.  Knauf Plasterboard Tianjin Co. Ltd. of China, a  subsidiary of German-based manufacturer Knauf Group, is the company at the focus of Florida’s drywall problems.

The Parker Waichman LLP class action lawsuit names Knauf Plasterboard Tianjin Co., Ltd., and  Knauf Group as defendants.   The trading company that imported the drywall, Rothchilt International Limited, is also named in the suit, as was  Florida-based Banner Supply.

The class action lawsuit alleges  10 million square feet - about 200,000 sheets -  of the drywall was used in Florida homes.  The lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District court in Fort Myers, charges that the defendants negligently manufactured and sold the defective drywall, which was "unreasonably dangerous" in normal use because it caused corrosion to air-conditioning and electrical components, and caused coughing and irritation of sinuses, eyes and throats. It goes on to state that, “when combined with moisture in the air, these sulfur compounds create sulfuric acid.”

“Defendants' drywall was made with waste material from scrubbers on coal-fired power plants, also called ‘fly ash.’ These materials can leak in the air and emit one of several sulfur compounds including sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide,” the complaint said.

Lennar Homes, one of the builders hardest hit by the Chinese drywall debacle, has also filed suit against Knauf Plasterboard and Banner, as well as another company, Taishan Gypsum.  Lennar's lawsuit claims the defendants sold “defective gypsum” drywall that was installed in homes built by Lennar, which “caused substantial damage” to the company.  The Lennar lawsuit charges 12 installers with breach of contract and breach of express and implied warranty. Lennar claimed that independent subcontractors installed the defective Chinese drywall in some homes, and it was  unaware it was being used.

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