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Robert Trigaux

In rising Chinese drywall tide, Florida insurers invoke 'pollution' exclusions

Steverawlsbutlerpappasdrywall Wake up and good morning. The trauma of tainted Chinese drywall -- its rotten egg stink, its corrosion of metals in homes and its respiratory irritations -- is moving rapidly forward. After causing a stir among federal legislators in recent months, the drywall controversy now is the hot topic among lawyers and insurance companies.

That's when things start to get serious. Last week at a "Chinese drywall litigation conference" drew 300 attorneys and consultants to Orlando. One theme that emerged: Affected residents turning to their homeowners insurance policies for help after discovering they are victims of tainted drywall. According to coverage in the Sarasota Herald Tribune, insurers are starting to deny homeowners' drywall claims based on something called a "pollution exclusion." It's designed to shield insurance companies from unexpected environmental hazards and has grown so broad that in some states they can be interpreted to cover almost anything related to chemicals, regardless of the source.

Tampa attorney Steve Rawls (see photo) with the Butler Pappas law firm, told the litigation conference that Florida is a poor place for homeowners to argue the "pollution" issue. According to the Herald Tribune, Rawls said that while some courts in other states have restricted the ability to cite "pollution" as a reason to deny coverage, Florida has not. Stated Rawls:

"In Florida, insurers are able to rely on the courts to support them much more so than in other states."

Gee, who would have guessed?

So if lawsuits don't work, there's always Plan B. In this case, some real estate owners are experimenting with a possible scientific way to neutralize the sulfur-like gas from Chinese drywall without tearing up homes. In Fort MyersGrosse Pointe Developers and BBL Builders teamed up with Sabre, a company specializing in cleaning contaminated buildings, to fumigate a property using chlorine dioxide.

Did it work? It's too early to tell but there's some local coverage (here and a more in-depth Fox video report here) of the initial treatment. We'll stay tuned.

-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist

[Last modified: Tuesday, June 1, 2010 11:25am]


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