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Federal class actions over tainted China-manufactured drywall -- the defective home-building material that is being blamed for home damage and health problems nationwide -- will be combined and heard before a federal judge in New Orleans, according to an order issued on Monday.
The decision in the case (titled "In Re: Chinese-Manufactured Drywall Products Liability Litigation") came in the form of a Transfer Order from the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, which is charged with funneling similar federal lawsuits into a single action that will be presided over by one judge.
The judge who will hear the case in New Orleans, Hon. Eldon E. Fallon of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, "has had a track record with large multi-district cases including the recent Vioxx litigation," according to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, and that factor may have carried more weight with the panel than the number of litigants in a geographic area.
According to the Transfer Order, the consolidated case to be heard in New Orleans consists of 10 separate class actions over tainted China-manufactured drywall: four in the Southern District of Florida, three in the Middle District of Florida, one in the Northern District of Florida, one in the Southern District of Ohio, and one originating in the Eastern District of Louisiana (where the consolidated cases will be heard).
The Transfer Order also mentions 67 more Chinese drywall lawsuits that are pending in a number of other federal district courts, and these additional suits will be treated as "tag-along" cases which could also eventually be heard as part of the consolidated New Orleans action.
Reports of property damage and health problems linked to the tainted drywall have been in the headlines for much of 2009. In May, EPA testing of the China-manufactured drywall found chemicals at higher levels than in the U.S.-manufactured product, but there is no definitive word on whether the differences in chemical composition could be to blame for reported problems.