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More Coral Lakes residents mull suit for foreign drywall

By Staff | Mar 20, 2009

First, Coral Lakes homeowners saw their home values drop dramatically.
Then they saw many of their neighbors, underwater on their mortgages, walk away from their homes. That led to two special assessments that totaled $900 to make up for shortfalls in the dues paid to the homeowner’s association.
Now, many neighborhood residents must deal with allegedly defective drywall imported from China.
About 80 residents of the north Cape Coral neighborhood gathered in the community clubhouse Thursday to hear from lawyers already representing four Coral Lakes families suing Engle Homes, the developer of the 300 single-family homes and 66 townhouses in Coral Lakes.
David Durkee, partner with the Coral Gables law firm Roberts & Durkee, filed the lawsuit Tuesday against Engle Homes and its parent company, TOUSA Homes. He called his efforts to get compensation for affected homeowners simply the right thing to do.
“If there is a just action to be had in this world, this is a just action,” Durkee told the residents.
Knauf Plasterboard Tianjin, a German-based company that manufactured the drywall in China, is most heavily linked to the defective drywall.
The product is made of naturally mined gypsum and is believed to cause copper, silver and other metals to turn black. Many homeowners with the suspected drywall have noticed indicators such as the corrosion of their copper air-conditioning coils and the tarnishing of jewelry, silverware and other items.
Thomas Martin, president of America’s Watchdog, a consumer advocacy group, discovered the problem in Florida in January, but the scope quickly widened, with as many as 41 states and Canada reportedly affected.
“The problem we thought was a little problem is now, we think, coast to coast,” Martin said.
Residents questioned the lawyers about legal strategies and how the case might proceed, but there was one big question that remains unanswered.
“We’re all talking about our houses, I’m worried about our health,” Coral Lakes resident Al Ferri said.
Wayne Kreger, partner with the Los Angeles-based Milstein, Adelman & Kreger law firm that is helping Durkee with the case, said tests are ongoing but nothing has been determined yet.
“I want to avoid creating a sense of panic about that. The answer is we just don’t know yet,” Kreger said.
The Florida Department of Health has received more than 100 complaints about the imported drywall, many citing headaches, nosebleeds, allergies they did not have before, insomnia and other symptoms.
During a building industry conference on Chinese drywall in Fort Myers last month, state toxicologists said initial testing in homes showed sulfur-based gases were below safety thresholds.
Kreger said that as more Coral Lakes residents sign on to the direct action lawsuit, an amended complaint would be filed in the coming months.