Unheard pleas of Chinese drywall victims

Published 4:53 pm Thursday, July 7, 2011


DUNNAVANT VALLEY – Jim and Carol Howard moved into their dream house near Dunnavant Valley in January of 2009, and they sunk their funds into the home to purchase it outright.

Now, after two years of searching for an alternative, they’re apartment hunting. They’re drastically downsizing because of their dream home’s single fatal flaw: Chinese drywall.

As the Howards are the second owners of the house built in 2006, Alabama law protects the house’s builder from a lawsuit. The Howards’ next option involved taking legal action against Knauf drywall, the manufacturer in China, and INEX, the drywall distributor in Germany. According to attorney Eric Hoaglund, the federal court system consolidated around 5,000 Chinese drywall-related lawsuits in multidistrict litigation in Louisiana.

As a result of the trials, Knauf drywall has started to fix houses with Chinese drywall. Hoaglund said the company has fixed 20 to 50 homes so far, and plan to do as many as 200 to 300 to determine if it’s “the cheapest way to get it done,” Hoaglund said. The houses being fixed, however, are not in Alabama thus far.

The couple, with other affected families, said they have spent the past two years trying to alert state and national legislators of the issues surrounding Chinese drywall, but to little or no avail.

“A lot of it is people don’t want to know about it because it doesn’t affect them,” Carol said. “We’ve written the president and Senator Bachus; we wrote all of these legislative people, and no one has really done anything for us.”

According to the Howards, government consumer reports state that the gases in the Chinese drywall aren’t fatal. Due to their experience and in discussions with neighbors with Chinese drywall, the Howards said that when the gases are combined, they’re dangerous to the inhabitants of the house.

For the past two weeks, the Howards have been living in a relative’s house, and the physical changes are evident.

“The best thing going for us is common sense,” Jim said. “Our symptoms dissipate after being out of the house for a few weeks. I can’t relate it scientifically, but it makes common sense. We knew anecdotally that we were healthy people — aging, but healthy.”

Vestavia Hills attorney Eric Hoaglund heard about Chinese drywall from a man at his church. He said he began to research homes built in 2006, and proceeded to send letters to homeowners in those neighborhoods. The Howards responded to Hoaglund’s letter and joined bring legal action against Chinese drywall manufacturers and distributors.

“The problem with the political solution is that there aren’t a lot of good options,” Hoaglund said. “They have to retroactively handle the problem. Politicians aren’t interested when there’s not a clear-cut solution.”

Jim said it’s difficult for people to believe there’s a legitimate issue with the drywall.

“It’s an invisible problem. It looks like a new, beautiful house,” Jim said. “People ask ‘What are these people complaining about?’ I’m complaining because it’s killing me.”