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Miami Couple Awarded $2.5 Million Over Defective Chinese Wallboard

Posted by Jane Akre
Saturday, June 19, 2010 12:36 AM EST
Category: Protecting Your Family
Tags: Chinese Wallboard, Sulfer, Bill Nelson, EPA, Environmental Health


IMAGE SOURCE: Lisa and Armin Seifart/ Miami Herald Web site

First Jury Trial Over Chinese Wallboard Home

“We never wanted to file a lawsuit we thought someone should come forward and help and when it became clear no one would, we had no other choice.”

The words of litigant, Armin Seifart, who along with his wife, Lisa, on Friday became the first homeowners in the country to receive a jury award over the damage to their home caused by drywall made in China.

A Miami-Dade jury awarded the couple $2.5 million in damages and expenses. They had sought over $4 million.

The Seifarts sued Banner Supply, a Miami-based company that provided them the drywall used in the Coconut Grove home. Instead of keeping them dry and safe, the drywall corroded their metal pipes, air conditioner and appliances.

And they always had a strange odor in the home.

The outcome of the Seifart trial could set a precedent for pending cases.

There are upwards of 36,000 homes in Florida affected and as many as 100,000 homes nationwide including Louisiana, Virginia, Alabama, Mississippi, and California.

Banner has been sued in dozens of cases as have others in the drywall industry.

What Discovery Revealed

Discovery in the case uncovered a 2007 agreement between Banner and drywall maker, Knauf Plasterboard Tianjin, to replace 2.3 million square feet of Chinese wallboard with domestic wallboard. Instead Banner replaced the defective drywall only in the homes where builders and installers complained about the smell.

The attorney for the Seifarts, Ervin Gonzales, said that Banner could have stopped thousands of U.S. homes from being fitted with the Chinese drywall if it had spoken up.

"The bottom line is that the public will not tolerate companies that cheat,'' Gonzales said.

The Seifarts were not compensated for any future stigma and depressed value when they sell the home, estimated to be about $200,000.

During more than two years since they smelled the strange sulfer-like odor they have spent more than $700,000 on repairs, rented another home at the same time, and lost many of their belongings.

Repairs to their five-bedroom, five-bath house, which was essentially gutted, won’t be completed until early next year. Even then they’re not sure they will be sufficient.

Banner was assigned 55 percent of the blame, Knauf Plasterboard Tianjin was assigned 35 percent and five percent to the exporters and importers, though only Banner was the only party named in this action.

What Tests Revealed

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tests conducted last year found the Chinese-made drywall contained sulfur, not found in U.S. drywall, in addition to the metallic element, strontium, at ten times the level of domestic drywall. The EPA tests also found two compounds generally found in acrylic paint.

The wallboard was imported to the U.S. between 2004 and 2008 when there was a shortage of domestic plasterboard.

Seifart said they sent e-mails to the importer of the drywall, Knopf in both China and Germany to be “the right corporate citizen” and he had no response from anyone. Ultimately they feel they were forced to hire an attorney.

“We weren’t going to stop until we took it to trial” Seifart told the Miami Herald.

A federal judge in Louisiana awarded to seven Virginia homeowners $2.6 million for their homes constructed with Chinese drywall. But the manufacturer Taishan Gypsum Co. did not participate in the proceedings so the verdict is in limbo. #

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