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| Columns |

First Ever Class-Action Suit Over Toxic Chinese Drywall Certified In Miami

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As we reported in a January investigation, toxic Chinese drywall is forcing thousands around Florida to make an impossible choice between abandoning brand new homes or exposing their families to dangerous fumes.

The state continues to drag its feet, protecting politically connected builders. The federal government still hasn't decided how to best remedy the problems. And homeowners' best hope lies in the courts -- which have a mighty hard time reaching Chinese companies.

Today, at last, came a bit of good news. For the first time in the nation, a Miami judge this morning certified a class action lawsuit against distributors and manufacturers of the toxic drywall.

The class action suit is limited to a single subdivision in Homestead, but lawyers say the judge's decision could be an important precedent for thousands of other victims.

"Now that we've established the precedent that there is a defective product with a common source, we can start to expand on the victory," says Victor Diaz, the lawyer representing the Homestead couple who brought the lawsuit.

A quick review, if you haven't followed the drywall story: During the housing boom from 2003-2008, homebuilders ran short of basic materials and began importing cheap drywall from China.

Homeowners quickly realized something was wrong; copper pipes turned black in months; appliances died weekly; wiring near the drywall corroded into dust. People reported coughs, nosebleeds and headaches.

Lawsuits have cropped up across the country, but there's a staggering array of challenges. For one thing, the biggest manufacturers, including Knauf, are based overseas and difficult to serve.

For another, no one can agree who's to blame on the long chain from the factory to the exporter to the builder to the subcontractors.

In Diaz's case, the Homestead couple -- Jason and Melissa Harrell -- sued the South Kendall Construction Group, which built their home in the Keys Gate subdivision, contractor Banner Supply Company, and a number of other companies.

Diaz also sits on the steering committee of the large federal case seeking a class action suit, which sits in New Orleans' federal court. He says the Miami ruling -- issued by Circuit Court Judge Joseph Ferina -- could help the federal judge in Louisiana authorize a nationwide class-action.

"This was all about testing whether these cases could be brought on as a class-action and we won a big victory today," he says.

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