There is big news in the world of Chinese drywall litigation. First, various news sources including the Miami Herald reported a $2.5 million jury verdict on behalf of a homeowner couple against Banner Supply, the supplier of the drywall. The verdict is reported to include not just loss of use of the home and repair costs, but also stigma damages for loss of value to the property. The jury may have become inflamed by the supply company’s actions after having been informed of complaints. According to CBS4 in Miami:
According to documents entered into evidence, when Banner Supply notified its Chinese supplier about the complaints, the supplier replaced the distributor’s inventory of Chinese-made drywall with American-made drywall. In return, Banner Supply allegedly signed a confidentiality agreement not to say anything about it to the government or its customers.
This verdict is well in excess of the total of the $2.6 million verdict awarded to seven Virginia families by a New Orleans federal judge in April. In the New Orleans case, Virginia Lawyer’s Weekly reported last week that the Chinese drywall manufacturer finally entered an appearance in the New Orleans case … to file a notice of appeal of the $2.6 million verdict. We will await the legal arguments with interest, but absent a pretty significant service of process problem, it seems pretty hard to appeal a verdict after the case is over. That train has seemingly left the station, although there are plenty of other claims pending in the overall class action in New Orleans and elsewhere. Even an appearance by the Chinese entity may provide some hope of a ability to recover some measure of compensation as opposed to getting a judgment against a judgment-proof entity.
Finding defendants with deep pockets is critical to claimants as the coverage posture on these claims appears quite shaky. Per Virginia Lawyer’s Weekly, a Norfolk federal judge recently ruled that there is no coverage under home owner’ policies for such losses. As we previously discussed, another Norfolk federal judge previously ruled that a builder had failed to state a claim for coverage under its liability policies. That case is still pending with leave to amend having been granted, pending amended claims having been filed, and the parties still in the briefing stages of another round of motions to dismiss.
These cases continue to attract commentary and interest, and we have commented on them with some frequency. In the words of one longtime friend and insurance defense/coverage guru I know well, “These case dwarf anything we have seen before in the construction industry products liability arena. There are literally millions of implicated defendants and parties.” Even with insurance coverage hurdles and questions of collection of judgments abounding, we can expect this topic to continue echoing for years rather than weeks or months.
Image by Matt Callow