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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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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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