A federal judge has given final approval to a $42.6 million class-action settlement between companies that made and installed government-issued trailers after hurricanes in 2005 and Gulf Coast storm victims who were exposed to hazardous fumes living in the shelters. U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt ruled from the bench after hearing from lawyers who negotiated a settlement agreement resolving nearly all remaining court claims over elevated levels of formaldehyde in trailers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency following hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Roughly 55,000 residents of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas will be eligible for shares of $37.5 million paid by more than two dozen manufacturers. They also can get shares of a separate $5.1 million settlement with FEMA contractors that installed and maintained the units. Formaldehyde, a chemical commonly found in building materials, can cause breathing problems and is classified as a carcinogen. Government tests on hundreds of trailers in Louisiana and Mississippi found formaldehyde levels that were, on average, about five times what people are exposed to in most modern homes. FEMA isn’t a party to the settlements and had downplayed formaldehyde risks for months before those test results were announced in February 2008. As early as 2006, trailer occupants began reporting headaches, nosebleeds and difficulty breathing.
It was reported that only three Plaintiffs opted out of the settlement with the trailer makers. Judge Engelhardt opened the floor to objections during a hearing, but it appears nobody spoke up in opposition. Neither did the judge receive any formal, written objections, either. But that doesn’t mean the settlement isn’t a disappointment for many residents who blame their illnesses on the cramped trailers they occupied for a very long time. Dan Balhoff, a court-appointed special master, will determine the Plaintiffs’ awards. Payments are expected to go out late this year or early next year.
A group of companies that includes Gulf Stream Coach, Inc., Forest River Inc., Vanguard LLC and Monaco Coach Corp. will pay $20 million of the $37.5 million settlement with the trailer makers. Shaw Environmental Inc.,. Bechtel Corp., Fluor Enterprises, Inc. and CH2M Hill Constructors Inc. are among the FEMA contractors that agreed to pay shares of the separate $5.1 million settlement.
Source: Montgomery Advertiser
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