Second round of formaldehyde lawsuits brewing
Posted: 06/26/2012 at 1:15 am
By: Marilyn Odendahl
Ridgeland, Miss., attorney Tyler Kent confirmed he and other Gulf Coast lawyers are preparing a civil suit regarding FEMA trailers sold at auction by the U.S. General Services Administration. The plaintiffs are individuals who purchased the units second-hand but were not told the products were from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and are now suffering from a variety of medical ailments.
Kent did not give specifics about the planned court action, saying the law firms were still working on the document and would likely file a complaint in September or October. However, he said based on the extensive research the attorneys have done, they believe they have enough material to move forward and get a remedy for their clients.
He described the pending case as a significant lawsuit for the RV and manufactured housing industries.
In April, almost 24 RV manufacturers reached a $14.8 million settlement with the victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. These plaintiffs say they are suffering from a number of health issues because of the elevated levels of formaldehyde that were in the travel trailers and fifth wheels they were given as temporary housing following the devastating 2005 storms.
The U.S. District Court of Eastern Louisiana has scheduled a fairness hearing on the proposed agreement for late September.
During the early stages of the first formaldehyde lawsuits originating from the Gulf, the court found FEMA not liable and removed the agency from the litigation. Kent declined to specify who would be named as defendants in this second round of legal action but he hinted the federal government could be included.
He explained FEMA had immunity in the initial formaldehyde case because it was acting in an emergency. But, that immunity does not apply to this case because there was no ongoing crisis when the units were auctioned.
“We don’t know at this point exactly who we’re going to name,” Kent said. “Lot of potential defendants could be named.”
Jerome Loftus, former general counsel for the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association, compared holding the government accountable to chasing a rabbit but he noted in this case, the argument does have some merit.
“I know the government certainly bares a big responsibility that they didn’t take any steps to prevent it from happening,” Loftus said of the formaldehyde contamination. “Then they didn’t take any steps to prevent the proliferation of (the RVs).”
Kent said the attorneys are applying some lessons learned from the first Gulf Coast lawsuits but their case is not dependent on the prior one. Although he was not specific as to what those lessons were, he emphasized the legal team was being very careful in the preparation of the complaint.