More than four years have passed since thousands of Louisiana homeowners first came in contact with contaminated Chinese drywall, and substantive legislation is only now beginning to gain momentum on the state and federal levels. Several questions need to be answered: Who should be on the hook for damages? What kind of role will insurance companies play? Can foreign manufacturers be held liable? So far, these questions have been difficult to address for lawmakers. Just ask state Sen. Julie Quinn, R-Metairie. Last year, she saw lawmakers shoot down her drywall bill, which would have allowed homeowners who unknowingly put the toxic material in their houses to sue the makers, distributors and sellers. "But we ran into problems because all of those companies were foreign entities and out of our reach," Quinn says.
Business and industry opposed Quinn's legislation, saying it weakened 1996 tort reform laws. Residents, meanwhile, are still seeking relief. Quinn says she isn't giving up. "I'm considering a new bill this year that would allow people to sue the U.S. distributor that's working with these foreign companies," she says. "I don't think we'll see the same kind of opposition, though."
Quinn, who has dedicated most of her current term to the issue, adds that she's considering filing another bill that would prohibit insurance companies from dropping coverage because of Chinese drywall, which is a concept that's being debated in other state legislatures.
On the federal level, U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon, D-Napoleonville, is helping push legislation that would, among other things, hold foreign manufacturers accountable for selling defective and dangerous products like Chinese drywall in the United States. The Foreign Manufacturers Legal Accountability Act would require such foreign companies to register an agent who would answer for them in a U.S. court of law. The federal legislation has been referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, on which Melancon serves. "Foreign companies are not playing by the same safety rules as U.S. businesses, and Americans are paying the price," Melancon says. "For years, toxic Chinese drywall has been entering our country and contaminating our homes, but Louisianans have had few options for holding the foreign manufacturers accountable." The bill also would cover other products, such as drugs, devices, cosmetics, biological products, consumer products, chemical substances, and pesticide manufactured or produced outside of the United States. — Jeremy Alford