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Hampton Roads families seek $2.6M for Chinese drywall damage

About $2.6 million is on the line for seven Hampton Roads families fighting for compensation from the manufacturer of the Chinese drywall that ravaged their homes.

That’s just a sliver of the millions more that could be doled out to others if they win their case. Thousands of Americans are waiting in the wings for recompense after the toxic wallboard turned their lives upside down.

But one big hurdle stands in their way.

A panel of judges in the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments Wednesday that will set them up to decide in the coming weeks whether Chinese drywall manufacturer Taishan Gypsum Co. Ltd. can be held accountable in American courts for its tainted products.

It’s one of the biggest questions yet in the five-year legal saga, and Hampton Roads families – four from Williamsburg, two from Newport News and one from Virginia Beach – are blazing the trail for the rest of the country. They are representing at least 300 families in a class-action lawsuit, Germano v. Taishan, which was filed in 2009

Read more about the case here

Read more about past Chinese Drywall issues in Williamsburg and Hampton Roads Virginia here

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Chinese Drywall bill clears Congress awaits Presidents signature

Congress has taken action to stop the spread of tainted drywall blamed for corroding pipes and causing breathing problems in thousands of homes in Florida and 38 other states.

The bill essentially bans high-sulfur building products and also raised hopes that homeowners will be able to bring Chinese manufacturers to court to recover the cost of replacing dangerous drywall.

image"Most of the homes in Williamsburg or Hampton Roads have been repaired, and people are moving forward, But any level of relief for those homeowners will  be welcomed, because many were devastated.

The bill that Congress sent to President Barack Obama Tuesday evening relies on diplomatic pressure to help alleged victims gain compensation.

It directs the U.S. secretary of commerce to arrange a meeting between Chinese drywall makers and U.S. officials on how to remedy homeowners. And it instructs the Commerce Department to insist that the Chinese government direct those companies to submit to the jurisdiction of U.S. courts and their judgments.

Though consumer advocates were encouraged, some remain doubtful about the Obama’s administration’s determination to demand a response from the Chinese.

The original legislation, H.R. 4212, was introduced by Representative Scott Rigell  and passed the House of Representatives unanimously this summer.  In December, Virginia Senator Mark Warner, a longtime advocate for Chinese drywall victims, was instrumental in moving the legislation unanimously through the Senate with an amendment.  Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed the measure on a strong bipartisan vote of 378-37 and sent the final bill to the President’s desk.
“This is a bill about protecting American families – their health and financial well-being.  Too many of our friends and neighbors have suffered because of the effects of Chinese drywall in their homes, and this bill ensures that preventative standards are in place so no American family is faced with the hardship and heartache from contaminated drywall ever again,” said Rigell, co-chair of the bipartisan Contaminated Drywall Caucus which has worked on legislation to address this issue since the beginning of the 112th Congress.

  “Having worked on this issue since the day I took office, I am pleased that this legislation is headed to the President’s desk.  But China must also be held accountable for the devastation this product has already caused, and we will continue to fight for these victims as well.”
“Hundreds of Virginia homeowners have been put through hell after building or repairing their homes with toxic drywall.  Our bipartisan legislation should ensure that, in the future, more Virginians will not have to go through similar nightmares,” said Senator Warner.  “This legislation helps make sure that unsafe drywall won’t be sold in the future, and that the manufacturers of tainted drywall will be held accountable.”
Senator Warner and staff have worked closely for nearly three years with about 100 affected Virginia families.  The Senator has worked with mortgage lenders, insurance companies, and the IRS to provide some short-term financial relief for affected families. In October 2009, Senator Warner accompanied Consumer Product Safety Commission Chair Inez Tenenbaum to Hampton Roads to speak with families and tour several homes affected by drywall issues.

Once signed into law, the bill will:
• Express a Sense of Congress that the Chinese manufacturers need to make restitution to the victims.
• Institute a labeling requirement so that defective drywall can be traced to the manufacturer.
• Set chemical standards to limit the amount of sulfur that can be present in domestic and imported drywall, allowing the Consumer Product Safety Commission two years to promulgate a rule pertaining to sulfur content.
• Require Consumer Product Safety Commission to update their remediation guidelines to prevent contaminated drywall from being reused or recycled.
Background on contaminated drywall:

Background on contaminated drywall:

  • Contaminated Chinese-manufactured drywall was imported and used in home construction from approximately 2001-2009.  Some of that material was used in Hampton Roads construction.
  • Scientific studies have shown this drywall to cause a corrosive environment for fire alarm systems, electrical distribution systems, gas piping, and refrigeration coils.
  • The CPSC has received reports of contaminated Chinese drywall in more than 3,991 homes in 43 states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, and Puerto Rico.
  • The Chinese manufacturers, some of which are state owned, have refused to submit to the jurisdiction of U.S. courts.
  • Reports from homeowners indicate that some contaminated drywall may be entering the recycling stream for use in new home construction or renovation.

Read other stories about Chines Drywall in Williamsburg, Hampton Roads here

Hampton Roads contractor keeps Chinese Drywall suit alive.

A local contractor won a minor victory in an appeal of its claim for damages against its insurance carriers, which refused to cover the costs of replacing tainted Chinese drywall.

imageA Norfolk federal judge had dismissed a $5 million suit brought by Dragas Management Corp., ruling that because Dragas voluntarily did the work, the insurance companies had no obligation to pay for it under federal law.

But the appeals court in Richmond on Monday ruled that federal courts lack jurisdiction over the matter and sent the case back to the Norfolk federal judge with instructions to dismiss it.

The appeals court ruled that because the parties exist in Virginia, the case belongs in state court.

That essentially keeps Dragas’ claim alive, although either side can try to appeal further to the U.S. Supreme Court.

More of the story here

Read more about Chinese Drywall issues in Williamsburg and Hampton Roads here

Va. court: Insurance doesn’t cover drywall damages

chinese-drywall virginiaThe state Supreme Court handed down a decision Thursday that legal experts say closes the door on Virginia homeowners’ attempts to obtain payments from their insurance companies for damages caused by defective Chinese drywall.

The court agreed with an earlier ruling that damage caused by drywall in Larry Ward’s Virginia Beach home was not covered because of several exclusions in Ward’s policy with TravCo Insurance Co.

Legal experts said the decision in TravCo v. Ward probably will prevent hundreds of homeowners from receiving payments from their insurance companies.

"To me, what these kind of cases illustrate is the Swiss cheese nature of homeowners’ insurance policies," said Tom Baker, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania. "There are all these different exclusions that exclude things that people really need insurance for."

Ward bought a new home in Virginia Beach in 2007 built with defective Chinese drywall, which emits noxious odors and corrodes household appliances and equipment. He filed a claim with TravCo in 2009, but the company denied it and then sought a judgment from courts.

A lower court ruled in TravCo’s favor in 2010, and Ward appealed.

The Supreme Court of Virginia ruled Thursday that the drywall was not covered because Ward’s policy contained four exclusions: latent defects; faulty, inadequate or defective materials; rust or corrosion; and pollutants, which include gaseous irritants or contaminants.

 More of the story here

Read more about Chinese Drywall issues in Hampton Roads and Williamsburg here

$13M settlement reached in Chinese drywall cases

Insurance companies and local attorneys representing Hampton Roads
homeowners who had sulfur-emitting drywall made in China installed in their homes reached a $13 million settlement June 20 in Norfolk Circuit Court.

The settlement involves companies that imported and sold the drywall, as well as numerous other builders and firms involved in the cases, and about 200 local homeowners.

The legal battle over who will pay to fix the properties is now in its 38th month. Many homeowners have already abandoned their properties or lost them through foreclosure or bankruptcy. Others have sold their homes, sometimes for less than half of what they paid.

Two insurance companies were involved in the settlement announced Wednesday. Venture Supply and its affiliate company Porter-Blaine Corp. were insured by Hanover Insurance Group. Dozens of other defendants, among them contractors, builders and developers, were insured by Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. and its affiliates

The settlement must be approved by a federal judge in New Orleans. Disbursements are expected to be made in November, and the remaining 80 cases are not resolved.

The drywall is blamed for sulfur emissions that corrode wires, air conditioning units, electrical appliances and metal fixtures.

A court-appointed specialist will determine how much each victim will receive by looking at a variety of factors including improvements made, when the house was sold, short sale, foreclosure, and who the builder and insurance company were.

The settlement will go before a federal judge in New Orleans next month for a preliminary approval, and final approval of the deal could come by Nov. 13.

Read past stories about Chinese Drywall issues in Hampton Roads here

Chinese Drywall Settlement Imminent in Hampton Roads

A legal settlement between Hampton Roads homeowners whose properties were built with tainted Chinese-made drywall and the companies they filed suits against is expected to be announced today during a hearing at the Norfolk Circuit Court, according to an attorney involved in the cases.

More than 170 homeowners in the region have sued local companies that distributed and built homes with the product, which federal product-safety regulators have found emits gases that corrode metal in homes and recommended it be removed.

Settlement talks have been ongoing for a few months, said Mark Nanavati, an attorney for Venture Supply Inc., the Norfolk company that imported the Chinese drywall. He told The Pilot of the pending settlement in an email but declined to disclose the details.

The legal battle over who will pay to fix the properties is in its 38th month. Many homeowners have already abandoned their properties or lost them through foreclosure or bankruptcy. Others have sold their homes for sometimes less than half of what they paid.

Read more of the story here

Read past stories about Chinese Drywall issues in Hampton Roads here

Va Beach Homeowners gain traction in Chinese-drywall fight

A Circuit Court judge on Wednesday entered a default judgment against the Chinese manufacturer that produced the tainted drywall that emits corrosive fumes that made some local homes unlivable.

It was the first time that Taishan Gypsum Co. Ltd. had appeared in a local court, more than two years after the company was first named as a defendant in a lawsuit. The company has since been named in numerous lawsuits in Virginia and across the country.

Taishan sold more than 150,000 sheets of drywall to a Norfolk construction supplier in 2005 and 2006, when U.S.-made wallboard became scarce during the building boom. Federal product safety regulators have found that the drywall emits gases that corrode metal in homes and recommended it be ripped out of homes.

In the case related to Wednesday’s hearing, Ben and Holly Proto of Virginia Beach sued several firms including Venture Supply Inc., the Norfolk company that imported the Chinese drywall. Venture Supply later named Taishan as a third-party defendant and served the company in China in December 2010. The Chinese company didn’t respond to the suit within the 21 days required by law.

Read more of the story here

Read more about Chinese Drywall issues in Williamsburg and Hampton Roads VA here