The judge overseeing one part of the litigation involving Chinese drywall -- the Florida class action -- has issued an important ruling on the negligence claims. Bennett v. Centerline Homes Inc. et al., No. 2009-ca-014458 (Palm Beach County, Fla.)
Defendants moved to dismiss the negligence claims, arguing they had no duty to protect the plaintiffs from the unknown and unforeseeable harm of the drywall. The court found that there was no duty to inspect or test the drywall for a latent defect, and thus to warn the plaintiffs. Florida law does not impose a duty to inspect a product for a latent defect, or to warn others about a latent defect, unless the product is inherently dangerous (which drywall is not).
Home builders, installers or suppliers of allegedly defective Chinese drywall could only be held negligent if it is established that the companies were aware that the drywall was defective, through actual or implied notice. But the issue whether a defendant had notice of a defect must be determined on an individual, case-by-case basis. Thus, the court declined to grant the motion on an omnibus basis.
As we have noted before, according to the allegations of the litigation, a shortage of drywall made in the U.S. caused many builders to use imported Chinese drywall during Florida's construction boom between 2004 and 2006. Much of the drywall was used in construction after Hurricane Katrina. Lawsuits filed over the drywall issues allege that excessive sulfur levels in the Chinese-made products are causing health effects and problems with air conditioning systems, appliances, internal wiring and other electrical systems. The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation consolidated the lawsuits in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. Other defendants, including building supply distributors, general contractors and installers, face litigation in state courts, like this one.