If you’ve been following the horrible Chinese drywall story these past few months, you know the situation has disintegrated into one hot mess—and the civil justice implications will likely remain enormous—so enormous, in fact, that it looks as though Congress will need to step in.
But just to lay a foundation for how we got here...
During the building boom, hundreds of millions of pounds of drywall was shipped to ports around the United States from China. While 25 states have reported issues, problems were first noted in Florida, likely because the drywall seems to react strongly in humid conditions.
By June 2008, the state Department of Health had received its first complaint of sulfur odors from a homeowner. Toxicology testing that followed showed some drywall imported from China appeared to be emitting sulfur-based gases that corrode metal, although no cause had been determined.
Homeowners began to link the drywall with failed air conditioners and blackened electrical wiring and jewelry…
About 600 Floridians in 30 counties have reported symptoms such as irritated eyes, bloody noses, rashes and insomnia.
Meanwhile, getting to the bottom of who’s responsible for this fiasco has been anything but easy. On the one hand, many U.S. home builders that bought and used these materials bear some responsibility—in the form of warranty liability. And many have begun setting aside money in anticipation of homeowners looking to them to honor those warranties.
On the other hand, Chinese manufacturers like Taishan Gypsum Co. Ltd., brought some 7.5 million pounds of the stuff into the U.S., so clearly they bear some responsibility as well. Unfortunately, thus far, that company (along with most of its Chinese drywall counterparts) has chosen not to respond to lawsuits against it. And despite the fact that a U.S. District court brought a default judgment against Taishan Gypsum late last week, the reality is that “civil judgments in U.S Courts are not enforced in China.”
In the meantime, both homeowners and home builders have been trying to come up with creative legal strategies to hold the Chinese drywall companies accountable. And that’s likely where Congress will have to step in.
Legislation is currently pending in the U.S. Senate “that would require foreign manufacturers to designate someone in each state where it does business to receive court papers, as well as consent to state and federal court jurisdiction,” (i.e., as a condition of doing business in the U.S., foreign companies and/or their local reps would have to consent to being hauled into court here if their products injure people).
Somehow this country has got to start better protecting us from unsafe Chinese products. For the sake of all American consumers, here’s hoping Congress does something about this soon. In the meantime, thank goodness for the trial lawyers who are in there fighting.