National Consumers League

Dangerous drywall demonstrates need for import safety regulation


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By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director The verdict is in: a Miami court recently awarded $2.4 million in damages to a couple who had to flee their home because of corrosive Chinese drywall that disintegrated, giving off noxious fumes and turning pipes black in the process. This case is the first one where a jury found the drywall manufacturers liable for the defective, sulfur-emitting product. Previously, a federal judge awarded $2.6 million to seven Virginia families to compensate them for damages related to rotten drywall. The product is found most frequently in homes built in Florida, Virginia, Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana, and became a crisis after the housing boom. The Florida couple who brought the case against Banner Supply, importers of the drywall, had to leave their home with their two young sons so it could be gutted and renovated. There are thousands of similar cases. Documents uncovered at trial, including a secret memo between the manufacturers and importers, revealed that Banner was warned that the drywall was defective and shouldn’t have been used. Meanwhile, the Virginia families haven’t been able to collect because the Chinese drywall maker didn’t respond to the court papers. This is precisely the problem that new legislation NCL is backing will address, ensuring that any company that imports products into the United States has a representative to take service of process if the company is sued and that the company puts up a bond to ensure there are funds to compensate anyone who is hurt by a product imported. The problem the Virginia families face is increasingly common when imports contain harmful chemicals or prove dangerous and defective. There’s too often no one around to take responsibility. NCL shares the concerns of those whose lives have been turned upside down by this Chinese drywall debacle. This is a product that should never have been brought into the United States, much less allowed to poison hundreds of thousands of homes. Adults and children have become ill, had their lives disrupted, and have had their life savings ruined. The fact that the importer and manufacturers both knew it was defective as they installed it proves that the regulatory – and liability – system need to do far better to protect American homeowners and consumers.