Judge Engelhardt of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, overseeing the MDL relating to the alleged formaldehyde contamination of FEMA trailers used in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, has chosen a lawsuit by a New Orleans woman and her son to serve as the first bellwether case in this MDL. See In re: FEMA Trailer Formaldehyde Products Liability Litigation, MDL-1873 (E.D. La.). Plaintiffs generally allege that trailers issued by the government following Hurricane Katrina exposed residents to high levels of the chemical formaldehyde.
The court had ordered the parties to submit the names of no less than 50 potential bellwether trial plaintiffs. From these names, one plaintiff for each of four bellwether jury trials was to be selected. The manufacturer defendants for these four trials had to be the four estimated to have the most emergency housing units at issue in this proceeding. (These four manufacturers are Gulf Stream, Fleetwood, Forest River, and Keystone RV.) Only plaintiffs who have identified and sued one of the four manufacturers, the relevant contractor, and the Government, were eligible to serve as bellwether trial plaintiffs. In addition, the bellwether plaintiffs must be selected from those plaintiffs for whom Plaintiff Fact Sheets already have been obtained and provided to the defendants. In addition, actions chosen for bellwether trials must have proper venue in the Eastern District of Louisiana, unless the parties in question consent to trial in this district. The court, from that list, selected the case brought by Alana Alexander and Christopher Cooper against Gulf Stream Coach Inc. to be the first that will be tried in federal court. The trial is set for Sept. 14, with three other cases against the other different defendants scheduled to follow as the court approached the hundreds of suits through a series of bellwether trials.
Readers will recall that last December, the court properly refused to grant class certification to the six proposed subclasses of plaintiffs, finding they did not meet the standards required for class certification under Rule 23. The plaintiffs had sought certification of four state subclasses of individuals who resided in trailers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Louisiana, Texas, Alabama and Mississippi following hurricanes Katrina and Rita, as well as a future medical monitoring subclass, and an economic loss subclass.
The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation consolidated a number of suits against the
government and a handful of trailer manufacturers over the alleged formaldehyde exposure
in October 2007, despite defendants’ objections. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released in 2008 the results of a study which it commissioned concerning formaldehyde levels in mobile homes provided to residents of the Gulf Coast affected by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. CDC has been working with FEMA and other agencies to investigate possible levels of formaldehyde in the trailers and mobile homes.