Chinese Drywall Highlights Hurdles to Holding Foreign Producers Responsible for their Products

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For Immediate Release: May 19, 2009

Contact: Jen Fuson
202-965-3500, ext. 609
media.replies@justice.org

Chinese Drywall Highlights Hurdles to Holding Foreign Producers Responsible for their Products

Hurricane Katrina Victims among Families that Face Further Home Complications

Washington, DC–Chris Whitfield is just one of the families who lost his home to Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana’s St. Bernard Parish. Just a few years later, his family now faces another uncertain future upon finding Chinese drywall in their new Picayune, Mississippi home.  The drywall is corroding his appliances, and causing an egg-like smell that he has no idea what effect it will have on his families’ health or home. 

Chris is just one of hundreds, if not thousands of families who wonder where they can turn for justice when their unsafe home is made from defective materials manufactured in another country. 

Today the U.S. Senate Judiciary’s Administrative Oversight and the Courts Subcommittee will explore the topic of holding foreign manufacturers responsible in a hearing titled, “Leveling the Playing Field and Protecting Americans: Holding Foreign Manufacturers Accountable.” 

“Unfortunately, when the product comes from abroad an unfair and unnecessary battle over civil procedure becomes the focus of the litigation instead of focusing on the real issue at hand, the victim’s injuries,” said Tom Gowen, of Locks Law Firm in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  “It makes no difference whether the product is drywall, tire valves, or toothpaste.  Someone has been harmed and someone has to be held responsible for the defective products.”  Gowen will be testifying before the subcommittee.

There are four primary hurdles when perusing legal action against a foreign entity:  identifying the manufacturer, service of process, jurisdictional issues, and collection of judgment.

Some foreign products do not contain an adequate label with the manufacturer’s proper name and might be labeled, “Made in China,” or have a retailers name like Sears, Walmart or Target.  This presents a problem identifying the manufacturer responsible residing within a foreign country.

Once a manufacturer can be identified, service of process, is simply actually servicing the legal papers to pursue further legal action.  The process has been made easier by a Hague Convention treaty signed by about 70 countries, but still requires the complaint to be translated in to the company’s home language, transmitted to the authority in the foreign country, and delivered to the defendant according to rules of service in the country.  India, for example, has not signed the Hague Convention, so servicing the legal documents requires going through the U.S. Department of State.

Also testifying before the subcommittee, Chuck Stefan is one of the owners of The Mitchell Company which builds homes in Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi that had unknowingly used the defective drywall in manufacturing about 45 homes.  “Foreign manufacturers should not be allowed off the hook for harming U.S. consumers and businesses like ours, especially if they are conducting substantial business here in the U.S.,” said Stefan.  “If American businesses can’t hold foreign manufacturers accountable, it hurts their bottom line in addition to harming U.S. consumers and homeowners.  It also puts U.S. businesses like Mitchell Homes at a competitive disadvantage.”

To set up interviews with Tom Gowen, Chuck Stefan, or any other consumer affected by Chinese drywall, please contact AAJ Communications.

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