NEW ORLEANS (CN) - Two major liability trials begin here today in Federal Court. The claims of toxic formaldehyde emissions from FEMA-supplied trailers for hurricane refugees, and hazardous emissions from Chinese-made drywall, are both the second in a series of "test" trials of multidistrict litigation, in which plaintiffs and defendants change but the complaints remain essentially the same - long-term health problems from hazardous chemicals, and property damage in the drywall complaints.
Hundreds of thousands of such liability suits resulted from the chaotic rebuilding process after hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Shoddy building materials are blamed for widespread illnesses caused by breathing the toxic fumes.
In addition, the Chinese-made drywall has been blamed for corroding copper and other metal surfaces, causing problems with wiring and plumbing, and ruining household appliances such as refrigerators, washing machines and dryers.
Tatum and Charlene Hernandez are plaintiffs in the Chinese drywall trial; Knauf Plasterboard Tianjin is the lead defendant. U.S. District Judge Eldon E. Fallon will preside over that bench trial.
Judge Kurt D. Engelhardt will preside over the jury trial in the FEMA trailer trial brought by Lyndon Wright against trailer manufacturer Forest River and the environmental testing firm Shaw Environmental.
The United States will also be a defendant in this trial, through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Because of a last-minute decision by Judge Engelhardt last summer, FEMA was not included as a defendant in the first FEMA trailer trial against Gulf Stream Coach.
The complaint to be tried beginning this week, filed in March 2009, claims Forest River supplied trailers to FEMA that contained toxic levels of formaldehyde.
Forest River and other manufacturers supplied tens of thousands of trailers for emergency use after hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.
The trailer makers subsequently faced lawsuits from hurricane victims who said the formaldehyde made them sick, or in some instances killed people.
Company lawyers say the trailers were safe.
On Sept. 24, a jury took just 4 hours to clear Gulf Stream Coach of such accusations from a family that occupied a trailer made by the Indiana-based company.
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