A group of Gulf Coast hurricane victims has filed suit against the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for sheltering them in trailers that allegedly exposed them to dangerous fumes. The addition of FEMA to the complaint, which had been filed in federal court, makes the agency a defendant in a number of consolidated cases against several manufacturers that provided the agency with tens of thousands of trailers and mobile homes after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. The cases against trailer makers were consolidated in November 2007 and transferred to a U.S. district court in New Orleans. However, FEMA couldn’t be named as a defendant in the litigation at that time. The agency could only be added at least six months after a plaintiff had filed a claim against the agency. ￼Several plaintiffs from Louisiana have met that threshold, allowing FEMA to be named as a defendant in the consolidated litigation.
Many trailer occupants have blamed their illnesses on formaldehyde, a common preservative found in building materials. Formaldehyde can cause respiratory problems and has been classified as a carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. The plaintiffs allege that trailer makers used shoddy materials and construction methods in a rush to fill FEMA’s demand for emergency housing after Katrina destroyed Gulf Coast homes in August 2005. As previously reported, recent government tests on hundreds of FEMA trailers and mobile homes in Louisiana and Mississippi found formaldehyde levels that were, on average, about five times higher than what people are exposed to in most modern homes.
Nearly 100 residents of Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, and Alabama are named as plaintiffs in the cases against more than 60 trailer manufacturers. Their lawyers want Judge Kurt Engelhardt, the federal judge, to certify the cases as a class action. Hundreds, if not thousands, of trailer occupants have filed claims against FEMA over the formaldehyde concerns. Interestingly, Justice Department lawyers have been involved in the litigation even though FEMA wasn’t a party in the litigation before it was added last month. Gerald Meunier, a New Orleans, Louisiana lawyer, is the lead lawyer for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
Source: Associated Press
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