Wednesday, April 18, 2012



By Marilyn Odendahl of

Following settlement negotiations described as “hard fought,” recreational vehicle manufacturers and victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita have reached a significant milestone in their protracted legal battle.

Several RV companies, many based in Elkhart County, Ind., and attorneys representing Gulf Coast residents filed a proposed settlement agreement which, if approved, could bring an end to countless lawsuits stemming from concerns over formaldehyde. The 220-page document was submitted to the U.S. District Court of Eastern Louisiana Friday and became available Monday.

Plaintiffs’ lawyers working on behalf of the displaced storm victims are pleased with the terms of the proposed settlement. The agreement states, “After years of litigating this case, including the exchange of thousands of documents, the taking of over 100 depositions, extensive motion practice, and participation in a months-long and hard fought negotiation process, the (Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee) has concluded the proposed settlement is fair, adequate and reasonable for the Class.”

Defendants and plaintiffs are asking the court to give preliminary approval to the settlement offer. This will then allow residents to submit a claim or opt-out of the agreement and ultimately lead the way to the court granting or denying final approval at a fairness hearing scheduled for Aug. 1.

The lawsuits arose from the estimated 150,000 RVs sent to the Gulf Coast region following the devastating hurricanes of 2005. To provide housing for the thousands of residents left homeless, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, in part, acquired travel trailers, park model units and other types of RVs from the manufacturers.

After moving into the trailers, residents began claiming the interior air quality contained dangerous levels of formaldehyde which were causing them a variety of illnesses and health issues.

The RV makers participating in the settlement — the defendants — refuted those allegations. Court documents state that each of the manufacturers continues to deny any liability, wrongdoing or responsibility in connection with the claims and believes that such claims are without merit.

Still court documents hint that pragmatic thinking on the opposing sides resulted in the agreement. Specifically, continued litigation would be complex, expensive and protracted for both parties.

Under the terms of the proposed agreement, RV manufacturers will pay differing amounts into a settlement fund which will be used to compensate plaintiffs. Not all the settling companies have disclosed how much they are paying into the pool but of the ones who have, court documents show the amounts range from a high of $6.25 million (Thor Industries and many of its subsidiaries) to a low of $122,450 (Hy-Line Enterprises, Inc., also known as FRH, Inc.).

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