Government not liable for formaldehyde-laden trailers

Following the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, the U.S. government, through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, provided thousands of homeless Louisiana residents with trailers at no cost to the residents and under no obligation. Unfortunately, the temporary shelters FEMA provided Gulf Coast residents were laden with formaldehyde. Since the poor quality of the FEMA trailers became national news, the federal government has passed legislation concerning the construction of mobile homes, and Louisiana residents who are concerned with construction law will want to stay abreast of how the changes will affect construction.

Formaldehyde is a cancer-causing chemical substance found in construction materials such as plywood and particleboard. The formaldehyde-laden trailers were provided to Gulf Coast residents from September 2005 until May 2009. Shortly after the trailers were made available, FEMA began receiving complaints from trailer occupants about the smell of formaldehyde.

After numerous lawsuits were filed over the trailers, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation consolidated all of the cases and assigned the matter to Louisiana’s Eastern District. The complaint alleged that FEMA trailer occupants were exposed to trailers that FEMA knew contained high levels of formaldehyde, yet FEMA did nothing to prevent the exposure.

The court ultimately concluded that the government could not be held liable. The court looked to emergency statutes that bar litigation against private persons under similar circumstances. According to the court, the government’s liability is measured according to the law where an act occurred, so the matter will be left to state and local governments in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

Because construction litigation can be highly complex, the help of an experienced legal professional is almost always indispensable to achieving an equitable outcome. Residents in the Baton Rouge area who have construction law concerns may want to consult with a construction law attorney to ensure the best possible results.

Source: Courthouse News Service, “Katrina Survivors Can’t Sue U.S. Over Trailers,” Sabrina Canfield, Jan. 27, 2012