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Indiana RV makers being sued over hurricane-issued trailers

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2007
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More than a dozen RV manufacturers that supplied the Federal Emergency Management Agency with trailers following Hurricane Katrina are being sued in federal court in Louisiana, including a handful based in Indiana.

A suit filed this week in the Eastern District of Louisiana in New Orleans accuses the manufacturers of using inferior construction materials in a profit-driven rush to build the trailers for the federal government. The 63-page filing includes nearly 50 pages of more than 500 plaintiffs who've lived in the trailers and are suing the companies. The lead plaintiff is Jerome Culler, who is suing individually and on behalf of his wife, Joan, who lives in one of the trailers at issue.

Hoosier-based defendants include Coachmen Industries in Elkhart, Gulf Stream Coach in Nappanee, Starcraft RV in Topeka, Ind., Jayco Enterprises and Pilgrim International in Middlebury, Recreation by Design LLC and Skyline Corp. in Elkhart, Keystone Industries in Indianapolis, and Ohio-based Thor Industries that owns several Indiana trailer manufacturers.

Texas attorney Anthony Buzbee is representing the plaintiffs. He could not be immediately reached by Indiana Lawyer for comment.

Only 14,000 trailers were available when the federal government contracted to buy more than 100,000 units of temporary housing after hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, according to the lawsuit. To meet that demand, manufacturers set up assembly lines and produced trailers in as little as 10 minutes without the usual quality control, the suit says.

FEMA isn't named as a defendant in this suit but has agreed to have the air quality tested in some of the trailers. Formaldehyde, a common preservative and embalming fluid, sometimes is found in building materials that are used in manufactured homes. The chemical can cause respiratory problems and possibly cancer in high doses or with prolonged exposure.

The suit alleges negligence and recklessness, breach of implied warranties, and various violations of state and common liability laws.

The hurricane survivors are seeking monetary damages, though the suit doesn't specify an amount. The lawsuit also asks for an order requiring the companies to remove from the trailers all material containing formaldehyde, to modify the trailers for adequate ventilation and other remedies.
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