U.S. District Judge Eldon E. Fallon has appointed 14 different Chinese drywall lawyers to serve in leadership roles in the consolidated litigation over defective drywall imported from China, which has been centralized in the Eastern District of Louisiana.
On June 15, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation consolidated all cases filed throughout the country involving issues with Chinese drywall into an MDL, or Multidistrict Litigation. The cases have been transferred to Judge Fallon for coordinated pretrial litigation and discovery, and Judge Fallon has indicated that he intends to fast track the litigation, with the first trials for Chinese drywall lawsuits potentially beginning within six months.
According to an order issued last week, Arnold Levin was appointed to serve as Lead Counsel for the plaintiffs, Russ Herman was appointed as Plaintiffs’ Liaison Counsel and twelve other lawyers were appointed to serve on a Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee.
Thousands of homeowners have experienced problems with defective Chinese drywall that was used to build homes between 2004 and 2007. The drywall was imported from China as a result of a shortage of domestic drywall caused by a housing boom and rebuilding from several hurricanes.
The defective drywall contains sulfur compounds that can emit a “rotten egg” smell, corrode electrical appliances and wiring, and potentially cause health problems for residents. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reports that complaints have been received from homeowners in 21 states, with most of the complaints coming from Florida, Louisiana and Virginia.
Although individual plaintiffs will continue to be represented by the Chinese drywall lawyers they retained to handle their cases, the attorneys assigned to leadership roles will perform duties during discovery, hearings and meetings that are for the common benefit of all plaintiffs whose cases have been consolidated before Judge Fallon.
The aggressive schedule laid out by Judge Fallon for moving the cases toward trial calls for each side to select 10 cases to begin early discovery, which will later be narrowed down to five cases for trial. The first cases will deal with property damage claims only, because they can be resolved quicker than the Chinese drywall injury lawsuits.
While the litigation is ongoing, lawmakers have been trying to find relief for homeowners affected by the Chinese drywall problems. Last Tuesday, Senator Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) sent a letter to President Brack Obama asking for the White House to mobilize federal resources and asking that the president create a federal Drywall Assistance Center where homeowners can find information on federal resources and the status of drywall investigations.
Nelson also specifically asked Obama to look into homeowner assistance grants and other grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and suggested that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) could assist with relocation of homeowners affected by defective Chinese drywall.