Couple Wins $1.2M in Chinese Drywall Settlement

John Pacenti | Daily Business Review.Com | November 12, 2013 A Miami-Dade jury will be the first to consider punitive damages against the manufacturer of tainted Chinese drywall used in thousands of homes. The jury found Friday that manufacturer Knauf Plasterboard Tianjin China and its German affiliate, Knauf Gips, was open to punitive damages based on intentional misconduct or gross indifference. It awarded Miami homeowners Jeffrey and Elisa Robin $1.2 million in compensatory damages against the Knauf companies as well as the Miami-based distributor Banner Supply Co. The punitive damage phase of the trial is set for Nov. 21 and 22 for the Knauf companies. No punitive damages were found against Banner. The compensatory damage award is intended to reimburse the Robins for the money they spent gutting their Coconut Grove home down to the studs and replacing the drywall. The couple moved into the 2-year-old Coconut Grove house in 2008 but was forced to move out because of the tainted drywall’s sulfur emissions. They moved back in January. The Robins said the gases released by the drywall caused headaches and nosebleeds as well as telltale damage to copper pipes and wiring. Jeffrey Robin is an associate at Akerman in Miami. Elisa Robin is a travel consultant. The couple is one of a handful of homeowners who decided to opt out of a global settlement in multidistrict litigation in New Orleans federal court, which settled for $800 million to $1 billion. “This is the first case in the country to go to trial on punitive damages, and it is also the first case to go against all the defendants in the distribution chain and the German affiliate,” said Victor Diaz, a partner at VM Diaz & Partners in Miami Beach who represents the Robins along with associate Jorge Lorenzo. A Miami jury awarded another couple $2.4 million in a lawsuit against Banner in June 2010, but the plaintiffs did not make a case against the Knauf companies. Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Beatrice Butchko handed Knauf a defeat before the four-week trial started, finding the defendants destroyed evidence. Butchko ruled Knauf at one time had gypsum ore from the Luneng and Hebei mines in China, synthetic gypsum and other evidence from a Knauf factory, test results and communications about the results between Knauf employees and scientists at Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute. The defendants “deliberately destroyed this physical evidence and some related testing or test results,” Butchko said. The ruling hurt Knauf’s attempt to shift blame to China’s Shandong Luneng Tai Mountain Mine Development Group Co. Ltd. Joy Lundeen, a shareholder at Stearns Weaver Miller Weissler Alhadeff & Sitterson, represented Knauf in the first phase of the trial. She did not return a call for comment by deadline. Diaz said when the case is over thousands of pages of evidence against Knauf will be available so the “true story of Chinese drywall can be told.” “The plaintiff’s case showed Knauf Gips knew in November 2006 the true nature of the defect, and they engaged in a coordinated cover-up of the problem,” Diaz said. Read more: