Four contractors that installed or maintained government-issued trailers for storm victims after Hurricane Katrina have agreed to pay a total of $5 million to resolve claims that the temporary shelters exposed Gulf Coast residents to hazardous fumes, according to court filings Tuesday (May 29).
The documents don’t disclose how much would be individually paid by Shaw Environmental Inc., Bechtel Corp., Fluor Enterprises Inc. and CH2M Hill Constructors Inc. and the companies’ insurers, The Associated Press reported.
The deal is linked to a larger class-action settlement agreement between plaintiffs’ attorneys and several companies that manufactured travel trailers for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) following hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.
The proposed settlement with the trailer makers was expanded late Monday to include claims against Gulf Stream Coach Inc., Forest River Inc., Jayco Inc. and Monaco Coach Corp. Financial terms of that part of the deal haven’t been disclosed.
Last month, however, nearly two dozen other FEMA trailer manufacturers agreed to pay a total of $14.8 million to resolve claims over elevated formaldehyde levels in FEMA trailers following the 2005 hurricanes. Formaldehyde, a chemical commonly found in building materials, can cause breathing problems and is classified as a carcinogen.
U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt is expected to hold a fairness hearing on the proposed settlement on Sept. 27. If he approves the deal, a group of Texas residents’ claims against FEMA would be the only formaldehyde-related claims that haven’t been settled or dismissed by the judge, according to lead plaintiffs’ attorney Gerald Meunier.
Meunier estimates that roughly 60,000 plaintiffs from Louisiana, Texas, Alabama and Mississippi who lived in FEMA trailers after the 2005 hurricanes would be eligible to participate in the settlement.
The U.S. Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit, has upheld a lower court’s decision to dismiss with prejudice a man’s suit against Keystone RV Co. relating to travel trailers provided for hurricane victims in 2005, according to www.leagle.com.
Raymond Bell III was one of thousands of plaintiffs who filed suit against Keystone and other RV builders, claiming the units provided through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) contained toxic levels of formaldehyde.
The “FEMA Trailer Formaldehyde Products Liability Litigation” has engulfed the RV industry for several years, but to date no RV maker has been found guilty of building or providing harmful products.
Bell sued Keystone, Shaw Environmental Inc. and FEMA.
Bell challenged the dismissal with prejudice of his case following the district court’s denial of his requests either to substitute a new “bellwether” 1 plaintiff or to continue the scheduled trial date.
The court’s actions were taken in the course of its management of thousands of similar consolidated suits for allegedly injurious formaldehyde exposure in FEMA trailers following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
“After reviewing all the factors that affected the district court’s decisions, we find no abuse of discretion and affirm,” the federal court announced on Tuesday (Dec. 14).
A New Orleans jury took less than three hours on Monday (March 29) to reject a man’s claim that toxic levels of formaldehyde in a FEMA trailer where he lived for two years after Hurricane Katrina caused a benign throat tumor and made him vomit blood, according to the Courthouse News Service.
The eight-person jury cleared trailer manufacturer Forest River Inc., based in Elkhart, Ind.
The jury found that the trailer in which 39-year-old Lyndon Wright lived was not “unreasonably dangerous” in construction or design. And it found that Shaw Environmental Inc. of Baton Rouge was not negligent in installing the trailer.
It’s the second straight win for trailer manufacturers. In September 2009, a jury cleared Gulf Stream Coach Inc., which supplied FEMA with emergency travel trailers, of similar claims.
FEMA, which provided more than 140,000 travel trailers to Katrina refugees, was not a defendant in this trial, as was originally expected. Before the trial started, U.S. District Judge Kurt D. Engelhardt ruled that Wright did not file paperwork alleging personal injury within the proper time frame, which exempted FEMA from participation in the trial.
Frank D’Amico Jr., one of Wright’s attorneys, said the verdict was disappointing, but that it doesn’t mean anything for cases awaiting trial.
“Every case turns on its own,” he said.
Forest River attorney Ernest Geiger called the verdict is “a victory for common sense.”
In his closing arguments, Geiger said that in Wright’s tax returns for 2007 and 2008 he claimed 10,000 business miles, and his earnings rose over the two years.
“Look how much he was working,” Geiger said, adding that if Wright had been as sick as he claimed, it would have affected his ability to work.
“Shaw is obviously very pleased with the verdict, which we consider to be validation for the work Shaw conducted for those affected by Hurricane Katrina,” Shaw spokeswoman Gentry Brann said in a statement.
D’Amico said in his closing argument that since FEMA does not know how to build a trailer, it relied on Forest River to make a quality product, and that Forest River acknowledged that it does not build products for the long term, only for temporary housing.
As the trial opened two weeks ago, Judge Engelhardt told the jury which “undisputed facts” all parties agreed to be true. Among them was that FEMA had provided 143,000 travel trailers to Katrina refugees; that of those 143,000 Forest River manufactured 5,000 units; and that Forest River used only low formaldehyde emitting (LFE) wood in its travel trailers.
Formaldehyde is considered a known human carcinogen by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
Wright’s lawyers had asked that Wright be awarded $65,000 in future medical expenses and an unspecified amount for pain and suffering.
A third trial against FEMA-contracted travel trailer manufacturers is scheduled for May.