The sudden turnaround of a Chinese drywall manufacturer that has repeatedly snubbed U.S. courts is a promising sign for thousands of U.S. homeowners whose homes, and even their lives, have been ruined by toxic, highly corrosive drywall, plaintiffs’ lawyers say.
Taishan Gypsum Co. Ltd., a drywall company owned by the Chinese government, last week paid $3.2 million in damages to a federal court in New Orleans. That money will be disbursed to seven Virginia homeowners whose complaints against Taishan were tried as bellwether cases representative of a much larger, complex body of litigation still pending.
The payments stunned those involved in the legal dispute. The court found Taishan liable in 2010 and ordered the company to pay the damages, but the company refused to pay, Instead, it filed multiple appeals and challenged the jurisdiction of the U.S. court.
The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals eventually issued its ruling upholding the lower court’s judgement. Instead of paying the damages, however, Taishan fired its U.S. lawyers and quit showing up in court.
U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon in New Orleans found Taishan in civil and criminal contempt of court and banned the company and its parent companies from doing further business in the U.S.
As a March 26 hearing approached in which Judge Fallon was expected to hand down a judgement for the entire class of some 4,000 homeowners affected by toxic Taishan Chinese drywall, Taishan suddenly reappeared with a new legal team amenable damages from the 2010 ruling.
One of the plaintiffs whose case was tried in 2010 told the New York Times that the news Taishan is paying the damages is “a huge relief,” but added that “it’s just the seven of us. There are thousands who aren’t so lucky right now.”
Taishan’s defective drywall was made with toxic levels of sulfur content, creating walls that emit sulfuric gases that corrode wiring, pipes, and other metal within the home, ruin electronics, and create health problems for home occupants. Many homeowners have dealt with deteriorating health and the premature death of once-healthy pets. They have also had to gut or flee their homes and throw out their belongings, in many cases driving them into financial ruin and forcing them into bankruptcy.
Judge Fallon is expected to release the $3.2 million Taishan paid last week in next few days.