Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Katrina-FEMA Trailer Lawsuits Filed by Alabamians for Formaldehyde

Sixty-six people in Mobile County, Alabama filed federal lawsuits against the manufacturers of travel trailers accusing them of exposing them to dangerous levels of formaldehyde after Hurricane Katrina.

The plaintiffs join about 23,000 others that have been filed in Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. The Alabama suits name seven manufacturers, along with those who won no-bid contracts to install the trailers.

The civil complaints contend that the plaintiffs, who live mainly in south Mobile County, developed conditions such as asthma and are at increased risk of cancer.

Attorney Ronnie Penton, who represents the Plaintiffs, said he will add the Federal Emergency Management Agency as a defendant but cannot do so under federal law until after a 180-day waiting period.

The current suit and the additional 40 civil complaints Mr. Penton plans to file by August 1, will be transferred to a federal judge in New Orleans, who has been appointed to oversee all of the travel trailer litigation along the Gulf Coast.

Attorneys believes this is the first group of Alabamians to file suit over the formaldehyde issue.

"It's the first breakthrough we've had in a long, long time to get some relief for these people," said Tyson, the father of Mobile County District Attorney John Tyson Jr. and a former Bayou La Batre city attorney and judge. "We found them in incredible bad condition, and no one was working on their behalf."

The lawsuits accuse the companies of resorting to substandard materials in order to expedite the manufacture of the housing units and failing to warn the government. Allegations also say poor trailer installation methods by contractors caused stress and flexing on their frames, increasing moisture and formaldehyde exposure.

The suit also says internal FEMA e-mails uncovered by a Congressional investigation showed that government officials were more concerned with potential lawsuits than in ensuring the health and safety of some 150,000 families that needed temporary housing after Katrina and Hurricane Rita.

Penton said the evidence is clear that government officials knew about the formaldehyde risks, "and they failed to tell the public about it." Penton went on to say he believes "in fact, it was a cover-up."

The first of the FEMA trailer lawsuits is scheduled to go to trial in New Orleans in September.

U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt in New Orleans will handle all pretrial matters in the Alabama cases before sending them back to Mobile for trial.

The plaintiffs seek compensation for past and future injuries, as well as punitive damages against the manufacturers and contractors.

Source: Press Register

Government Study relates Formaldehyde to increased deadly cancer risks: