A Florida family has been awarded a $2.46 million settlement by a Miami-Dade Circuit Court jury, a decision that is likely to establish how other trial juries will respond in cases relating to the thousands of complaints that have been pouring into the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission and Florida Department of Health regarding defective Chinese drywall.
As reported earlier by The Florida Independent, the lawsuit, brought by Armin and Lisa Seifart of Coconut Grove, was the first to be filed against a domestic distributor. Documents revealed in the trial confirm that Banner Supply, a Miami-based company that supplies building materials to home builders, signed an agreement in 2007 with its distributor to suppress known issues with the tainted drywall that was imported to the United States between 2004 and 2007:
The plaintiffs claimed that Banner Supply made a secret deal to cover up drywall problems with Knauf Plasterboard Taijin, a German company that supplied them with Chinese drywall. Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Joseph Farina allowed the agreement to be unsealed before the trial. The agreement reveals that in 2007, Banner knew of several homes that had bad-smelling drywall and asked Knauf to investigate.
After its investigation, which determined that the sulfur levels in the home were safe, Knauf struck a deal with Banner to stay silent about the problems. In return, Knauf agreed to replace the Chinese drywall it has sold Banner with U.S.-made drywall, and paid Banner for holding it. Banner agreed to be quiet about the problem and not to help other plaintiffs seeking to sue Knauf.
Attorneys representing Banner maintained the company had operated under the assumption that the defective drywall was limited to small batches. Vice President Jack Landers testified his company was “in no way in cahoots with Knauf to hide this from anybody.”
“It’s a strong victory in favor of consumers,” said family attorney Ervin Gonzalez of Colson Hicks Eidson in Coral Gables, Fla. “The American public won’t tolerate companies that cheat.”
“Profits over people; sales over safety,” he repeated several times. “It’s good for the business to keep it quiet.”
“It could have been avoided. It should have been avoided. And it would have been avoided if Banner had done the right thing. But they didn’t,” Gonzalez said during closing arguments Thursday.