Chinese Drywall Litigation: Preservation of Evidence

Exposed drywall in new constructionOn June 15, 2009, a special panel on multidistrict litigation ordered 10 federal cases involving liability for allegedly defective Chinese manufactured drywall consolidated in the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Louisiana with Judge Eldon E. Fallon. It was also ordered that another 67 liability actions involving allegedly defective Chinese manufactured drywall pending in other federal districts, and any other related state or federal action, be treated as potential tag-along actions and consolidated in the same court.

This procedure, referred to as multidistrict litigation, is utilized in the federal court system to consolidate pending federal and state civil cases filed throughout the United States with common questions of fact. The consolidation allows one federal judge to manage, among other things, pretrial procedures, discovery, and dispositive motions. However, after all discovery and pretrial rulings, if issues remain to be tried, the case will be remanded back to the court where it was originally filed for trial.

Judge Fallon has entered a number of orders in the Chinese drywall multi-district litigation. One of interest was entered on October 9, 2009, as Pretrial Order No. 1(B). In that order, Judge Fallon sets forth the duties and obligations for the preservation of physical evidence that must be followed by all individuals in all jurisdictions.

In summary, all individuals and entities who have or intend to pursue claims relating to allegedly defective Chinese manufactured drywall must preserve certain portions of the defective drywall and the damaged property at their own expense. Parties are required to preserve multiple samples of the drywall, drywall end tape, HVAC coil material samples, plumbing component samples, electrical component samples, and other damaged property. All evidence must be photographed or videotaped. Photographs of the evidence should be taken before and after it is removed from the property and documented on a floor plan. Thereafter, all preserved evidence must be individually stored in double-bagged polyethylene zip-lock bags. The samples must be clearly labeled on the outside of one plastic bag and then placed inside the second plastic bag. The label should include the name and address of the property, the date the samples were taken, the type of evidence, and the location where the item was taken from within the property. Finally, the evidence must be stored in a reasonably climate controlled location and free of water or moisture. 

The preservation of evidence is key to any claim involving damage to property. As such, anyone pursuing or intending to pursue a claim for damage caused by allegedly defective drywall should read and strictly comply with Pretrial Order No. 1(B).

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