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Homeowners file lawsuit against builder for drywall

By Staff | Mar 18, 2009

When Joyce and Sonny Dowdy bought their home in Coral Lakes a year ago, the drywall used to construct the house was the last thing on their minds.
“I never heard of Chinese drywall,” Joyce said.
On Tuesday, the Dowdys, along with at least three other families in the north Cape Coral neighborhood, filed a class action lawsuit against Engle Homes, builder of the 300 single-family homes and 66 townhouses that comprise Coral Lakes.
In July, the Dowdys replaced their air conditioning coil after it turned from its original copper to black — an alleged symptom of the defective drywall — and also began to notice a foul odor that was giving Sonny headaches and insomnia.
“I knew we had a terrible odor. We tried to air it out and air it out, but the smell remained,” Joyce said.
The suspect drywall is made of naturally mined gypsum and has been most heavily linked to Knauf Plasterboard Tianjin, a German-based company that manufactures the drywall in China. An influx of the drywall is believed to have arrived in Southwest Florida in 2004 during the height of the housing boom.
During a press conference Tuesday to announce the lawsuit, attorney David Durkee, who filed the suit on behalf of Coral Lakes residents whose homes contain the drywall, said the suit is likely to spread beyond the four families currently named as defendants.
“Based on what we’ve seen, there’s a large number of people (in Coral Lakes) that have this problem,” Durkee said.
He explained the lawsuit is aimed at Engle Homes, and not the manufacturer of the drywall, because the builder decided to use the drywall in the homes.
“Engle builders utilized defective, and what we’ve alleged to be toxic, drywall in the homes at Coral Lakes,” Durkee said.
During a builders’ conference on Chinese drywall in Fort Myers last month, Florida Department of Health toxicologist Dr. David Krauss said the levels of sulfur-based gases carbonyl sulfide and hydrogen sulfide are below safety thresholds.
However, the Florida Department of Health has received more than 100 health-related complaints about the drywall.
The potential health hazards are just one problem associated with the imported drywall. The product is also alleged to tarnish metallic items in homes.
In addition to about one dozen blackened, silver display ornaments, a silver bracelet bought by Joyce one month ago is also black.
Self-described “snowbirds” Larry and Terri Torpy, also named as defendants in the lawsuit, said the drywall problem in their home is not as bad as the Dowdy’s home, but is still unsettling.
“Right now ours is mild compared to theirs, but we do know it’s there because you can smell it,” Terri said.
Thomas Martin, president of the consumer advocacy group America’s Watchdog, also attended the press conference and said the drywall was first discovered in Florida, but has been discovered in 41 states as well as Canada.
“We think this is going to be the worst case for product liability in U.S. history,” he said.
The drywall problem has compounded existing property woes for Coral Lakes residents, who have seen their home values plummet as their neighborhood fees have risen in the past year.
“You’ve got families that now they’re being hit over the head a second time. They’ve been hit with the mortgage crisis, and now they’ve been hit with this drywall,” Durkee said.