Another Chinese Drywall Trial — This Time, With a Defendant

The second of several "bellwether" liability trials stemming from defective Chinese-made drywall took place last week in Federal court in Louisiana. This time, defendant Knauf Tianjin was represented in court (unlike last month's bellwether suit against defendant Taishan Gypsum, who failed to appear). The core issue in this latest trial, however, was the same as in the previous one: How extensive a remediation effort is the homeowner entitled to receive? Expert witnesses for Knauf Tianjin argued forcefully last week that wiring and other copper elements could safely remain in the home after drywall was removed and replaced, reports the Sarasota Herald-Tribune (" Chinese drywall maker is on the attack," by Aaron Kessler). In the previous trial, a Beazer Homes executive had testified that Beazer had found wiring to be subject to corrosion even when encased in PVC insulation. But Knauf's expert, physicist Richard J. Lee, told the court he believed that there was ""nothing there except untarnished wires." And according to another Knauf expert, fire safety expert Craig Beyler, corrosion on exposed wiring is easily removed — in fact, he told the court, just tightening up the screw where the wire attaches to the receptacle would scrape most of the corrosion off. In closing arguments, another party came under attack by plaintiffs' attorneys: the United States Consumer Products Safety Commission. According to the Herald-Tribune, attorney Russ Herman lambasted the CPSC for not observing the trial, even though the agency has promised to come up with a protocol to define a proper remediation f or affected houses ( "Bellwether drywall case in hands of judge," by Aaron Kessler). Reports the Herald-Tribune: "'The CPSC is going to issue its rulings without observing one expert witness that's come before you,' Herman said, addressing the judge... He said during the CPSC's visit to China, it 'doesn't go to every mine, every factory -- it goes to some negotiated few that the Chinese tell them is the Chinese version. That's not the crucible of justice we have in an American court.'" U.S. District Court Judge Eldon E. Fallon, presiding over the case, told both sides that a quick resolution was imperative. "He said the effects of the drywall are 'going to get worse the longer it stays in' homes, and further meandering cannot stand," reports the Herald-Tribune. For his part, Fallon promised to start working immediately to review the evidence and reach a decision. But he also urged the contending parties to work on reaching a compromise settlement, saying, "It's one thing to theoretically analyze a case, but there's nothing like putting it before a court. I think after you do that, both sides need to take a look at this matter and see.