NEW ORLEANS — Lawyers for people contending that Chinese drywall damaged their homes say they have a simple way to help the 2,700 in a class-action suit.
"All of the people in this class have been living in a toxic, corrosive environment for years," Chris Seeger told U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon as a trial to decide damages began Tuesday.
Plaintiffs say the drywall gives off sulfur fumes that corrode metals and cause health problems.
The class action contains homeowners in Virginia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. A plaintiffs' expert has created a damage formula based on contractors' bids adjusted by ZIP code for local costs, Seeger said.
The manufacturer's lawyer, Michael Kenny, said the plaintiffs' formula is based on seven Virginia houses and cannot be applied everywhere.
The company, Taishan Gypsum Co. Ltd., recently paid the owners of those houses and their attorneys $2.7 million plus about $500,000 interest.
"Evidence shows this class claim is extreme overreach," Kenny said, asking Fallon not to certify class damages.
He also said Taishan found errors in earlier figures, cutting plaintiffs' requests from nearly $1.3 billion in class damages to $502 million.
The case is being heard without a jury and Fallon, who certified the class, will decide damages. Only experts are testifying in the trial.
Claims dropped from the class action, such as loss and enjoyment of property, attorneys' fees and "move-in/move-out" costs, remain alive and will be tried separately, plaintiffs' attorney Daniel Becnel said during a break.
About 1,000 more cases don't fit into the dollars-per-square-foot formula to be set by Fallon and will be tried individually, said Arnold Levin of Philadelphia, one of many plaintiffs' attorneys in the case.
"People have lost their homes. Some were put in bankruptcy. Some are living in tents. They can't go into their house and they're living in tents outside," he said.
Another manufacturer, German-owned Knauf Plasterboard Tianjin Co., and four companies it supplied agreed in 2010 to pay for home repairs. That settlement is expected to total $1.1 billion, attorneys have said.
Plaintiffs include Thomas Stone, fire chief in suburban St. Bernard Parish. He said Monday that Chinese drywall has ruined his life, repeatedly corroding fixtures and appliances in the house he bought and rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina.
Stone and his wife bought the house after living for two years in a government trailer — two years during which Stone worked seven days a week, rebuilding the fire department and the parish.
Stone said they moved in in April 2008 and realized something was wrong after Hurricane Gustav hit four months later.
"We didn't have electricity for a week. We started noticing stuff rusting — the faucets, the ceiling fan extension post, door hinges," he said.
Later, the computer, television and washing machine broke down. All were new. Since then, they've had to replace two surround-sound systems and another TV. Clocks have broken. The house smells like fireworks and burnt matches.
Stone just bought the downstairs air conditioner's sixth set of coils, also replacing a compressor that failed because the coils did. The upstairs unit's coils have been replaced three times.
"Almost every week you see something else damaged," he said.