Akerman Senterfitt Wins Chinese Drywall Court Ruling

The law firm Akerman Senterfitt was victorious in a recent Florida court case ruling which stated that builders and installers cannot be held liable for negligence for installing faulty Chinese drywall during home construction if they did not have actual or implied notice of a defect in the drywall when the repairs took place.

Judge Glenn Kelley of the 15th Judicial Court in Palm Beach County, Fla., issued the Omnibus Order on March 18, which will be applicable to all lawsuits that take place in the county.

“The ruling is an important victory for the homebuilding industry, as it adds clarity and requires that builders and their subcontractors have knowledge of potential drywall defects at the time of the construction,” said Stacy Bercun Bohm, a shareholder with Akerman’s construction practice.

C. David Durkee, a partner in the Florida law firm Roberts & Durkee that represents homeowners in Chinese drywall litigation, said Chinese drywall is the term for drywall with an abnormal composition that causes it in humid climates to emit gases that damage home components such as ground wires for electrical outlets and air conditioning units, as well as personal property like microwaves and computers.

Durkee said the defective drywall causes health problems including burning eyes, sore throats, bloody noses, insomnia and respiratory problems. He added that the product also causes homes to smell because of the sulfur gases that are emitted.

Based on the volume of imports from China since 2001, about 60,000 homes, condominiums and townhouses contain this toxic product.

According to Florida legislation, property appraisers are supposed to adjust the assessed value of single-family residences that contain this type of drywall because the house is considered to be “worthless.”

Since properties that have the drywall installed are considered invaluable, many homeowners are deciding that it is a good financial decision to stop paying the mortgage, leading to their home being foreclosed.

“Many homeowners, when they realize their homes are considered worthless because of defective drywall—and could be damaging their health—feel little incentive to continue paying their mortgages,” Durkee said. “In addition, many who abandon their toxic homes simply cannot afford to pay both their mortgages and the expense of an alternative living space such as rent.”

There have been numerous lawsuits throughout the nation accusing builders and installer subcontractors of being “negligent” for using this type of drywall. The businesses have been charged with failing to inspect or test the foreign sourced drywall before its installation, as well as failure to warn homeowners of the problems associated with the product.

The law firm is optimistic that the Florida ruling will lead other states to adopt similar judgments for any future court case.

“We are hopeful that this decision will be adopted by other judicial circuits as well as in the multi-district litigation currently pending in a federal court in Louisiana,” said Leslie Tomczak, a construction litigation and real estate shareholder with Akerman who was the leader for the law firm during this case.