In a recent decision, a Palm Beach County, Florida, judge ruled that because homebuilders did not manufacture the defective drywall that eventually caused damage to homes, and because they were not within the “chain of distribution,” they could not be held strictly liable for the alleged defects. Strict liability would make it easier for a potential victim to recover money from the homebuilder because the victim would not have to prove that the homebuilder had been negligent in any way. The victim would merely have to show that a product standard was not met along the supply line that led to their injury.
In this case, the homeowner, Marlene Bennett, sued the homebuilder under several theories: 1) breach of contract, 2) tort law, and 3) private nuisance law. The plaintiff asserted damages against the homebuilder, installer, supplier, and manufacturer of the drywall for installing faulty materials, economic losses for declines in home values, and personal losses for the alleged nuisance caused by the drywall emitting fumes. All of these claims, and defendants, are designed to cover the wide spectrum of expenses and responsibilities that can develop as a result of this caustic material being installed and slowly ruining a family home.
Upon going to trial, the case hit its first roadbump when the judge did not let the private nuisance claim go forward. Usually, nuisance law claims are used when someone is unreasonably interfering with the private property rights of another. The judge analyzed Florida law and decided that nuisance law usually had to do with things tied to the land itself, not parts of the house like drywall. The plaintiff may still be able to claim under a breach of contract claim (for breach of implied warranty or other claim) but because there are so many parties involved from the manufacture of the drywall to its installation, it is difficult for plaintiffs to recover damages.
It is important, however, to note that this is only one case, and was in a Florida court, not a Louisiana court. It has not yet been adopted by other judges or upheld by higher courts, and the case law is still developing in this area. It is possible that a Louisiana court could decide the case completely differently. The proper attorney with the most thorough understanding of product liability and insurance dispute (like those at our firm) will use legal theories and tools like this to navigate the judicial process.
In addition to this case, there are a number of ongoing legal efforts in the courts right now in Louisiana, Virginia, California, and Florida dealing with the issue of whether builders can be held liable for defective drywall. Much of the drywall involved in the litigation was manufactured during a specific period of time in China and believed to cause damage to electrical wiring and fire safety equipment.There has been a settlement in federal court involving Knauf Plasterboard Tianjin, which produced one-fifth of the defective drywall, recently settled in federal court to help pay to fix the damage their defective drywall caused. Homeowners may choose to have their homes repaired or to sue for money damages and do the work themselves.
Our firm has made steady progress within the courts and continues to take on clients looking to receive the damages they deserve due to this defective wallboard. If you are a homeowner with defective drywall that is emitting fumes, lowering your home value, or other damage, we may be able to help you.
Call the Berniard Law Firm today toll-free at 1-866-574-8005 to speak with a lawyer.