A federal court jury in New Orleans on Monday (May 24) found in favor of RV manufacturer Recreation by Design LLC, Elkhart, Ind., in the third ”bellwether” lawsuit involving allegedly formaldehyde-laced trailers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as temporary housing for victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
The jury deliberated for about two hours after hearing eight days of testimony that alleged that Earlene Castanel’s health had been damaged by a trailer laden with formaldehyde.
”There have been three trials and all of them have resulted in defense verdicts,” said Andrew Weinstock, a partner in the Metairie, La., lawfirm of Duplass, Zwain, Bourgeois, Pfister and Weinstock.
Recreation by Design and other RV manufacturers sold tens of thousands of emergency living units to FEMA following the 2005 hurricanes.
Two previous suits involving Gulf Stream Coach Inc., Nappanee, Ind. — in which Weinstock was lead attorney — and Forest River Inc., Elkhart, Ind., have resulted in favorable verdicts for RV manufacturers.
Another lawsuit again Gulf Stream is expected to go to trial in September with a others to follow, unless plaintiffs and defendants come to a settlement.
Weinstock estimated that 60,000 lawsuits have been filed against builders of the FEMA trailers.
”That’s a guesstimate and I think it’s a pretty good one,” Weinstock said.
U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt earlier ruled that the lawsuits couldn’t be combined as a class action, meaning that each lawsuit had to be tried individually.
The ”bellwether” trials for a handful of claims chosen from among hundreds that had been filed are designed to help the New Orleans court test the cases’ merits and possibly settle other claims over formaldehyde exposure in FEMA trailers.
Weinstock said that at some point, defendants are likely to find the lawsuits untenable if juries continue to deliver verdicts in favor of RV manufacturers.
”(Plaintiff attorneys) signed up a lot of people and at some point, we need to figure out which have cases and which don’t,” Weinstock said. ”The challenge (for defense attorneys) is figuring out what makes on a case with merit and which ones don’t.
”We’ve not done an inventory on who has filed suits. But obviously, we are not going to try 60,000 cases.”
A main point that Recreation by Design lawyers made in defense of the company was that there is little evidence that formaldehyde levels in the trailers were out of the ordinary.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tested more than 500 trailers and found only six with formaldehyde levels in excess of levels established by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for manufactured homes.