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Chinese Drywall Victims Could Get Help from Senate Bill Targeting Foreign Manufacturers

Aug 11, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP
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The Chinese drywall debacle has prompted some U.S. Senators to introduce legislation that would make it easier for American consumers to sue foreign manufacturers.  According to The Palm Beach Post, the bill - known as the Foreign Manufacturers Legal Accountability Act of 2009 - was sponsored by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and co-sponsored by Sens. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., and Richard Durbin, D-Ill.

The Consumer Products Safety Commission has received 810 Chinese drywall complaints from 23 states since last December, with most coming from Florida (621). The state with the second highest count is Louisiana (105). Others have come from consumers in Alabama, Arizona, California, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming, and the District of Columbia. However, it is likely that far more homes are affected. According to The Wall Street Journal, some 500 million pounds of Chinese drywall was imported to the U.S. during the housing boom. That means as many as 100,000 homes throughout the country could have been built with the material.

According to The Palm Beach Post, the Foreign Manufacturers Legal Accountability Act was prompted by a Senate hearing last May where the difficulties of holding overseas manufacturers accountable for defective products was discussed.  At the hearing, one builder told Senators how he had spent  months and thousands of dollars trying meet all the stipulations under the Hague Convention, but was never able to serve notice of a lawsuit to overseas manufacturers of Chinese drywall.  The Foreign Manufacturers Legal Accountability Act of 2009 would eliminate those hurdles, ensuring that Americans can serve necessary legal papers on foreign manufacturers and that those companies do not evade the jurisdiction of American courts.

"American consumers ought to know that they have legal protections from harmful products on store shelves - regardless of where that product was made. Loopholes in current law allow many foreign manufacturers to escape accountability when their products injure Americans." Sen. Durbin said in a statement.  "This bill will close those loopholes and ensure that all companies will be held to account for defective or harmful products."

According to The Palm Beach Post, the bill has several provisions that would reduce red tape for consumers wishing to sue foreign manufacturers.  These include:

  • A manufacturer who imports products into the United States would have to have a business representative in at least one state where it does business who could be served on any claims.
  • Foreign manufacturers would agree to be held accountable by U.S. courts if sued.

The bill is supported by  the Consumers Union, the American Association for Justice and the Consumer Federation of America, The Palm Beach Post said.

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