Hundreds of thousands of U.S. homeowners with leaky plastic pipes will share in a $950 million settlement approved Thursday by a judge.
State Judge Mike Maloan in Union City, Tenn., approved the settlement fund set up by Shell Oil Co. and Hoechst Celanese, both makers of materials used in the pipe’s manufacture.
The money will go toward repairing polybutylene plumbing installed in about 1 million houses and as many as 6 million mobile homes and apartments during the 1970s and ‘80s.
Polybutylene is a bendable black, silver or gray pipe not to be confused with rigid, white PVC pipe.
Thousands of people had joined class-action lawsuits over the past 10 years, claiming the pipes leaked when exposed to chlorine and other chemicals in tap water.
Lawyers for the homeowners said the settlement was the largest of its kind in U.S. history.
“This is an extraordinary success for consumers around the country,” said Arthur Bryant, executive director of Trial Lawyers for Public Justice, which helped represent plaintiffs. “The relief is unprecedented.”
The settlement, while available to homeowners nationwide, brings to a close 21 similar cases being litigated in 18 states, including Alabama where DuPont Co. previously agreed to a $120 million settlement. DuPont made materials for the pipe fittings.
Both Shell and Hoechst Celanese have denied that the pipes are faulty and blamed poor installation and improper use. But a Shell attorney was pleased with the settlement.
“I think that it’s good for all the parties involved,” said Mary Lou Strange, an attorney for Shell. “Homeowners will begin to get relief, and Shell can turn its attention to making sure the agreement is fully implemented and can get back to its other businesses.”
Plaintiffs’ lawyers didn’t know exactly how many people will benefit from the settlement. They said more than 1 million people already have responded to notices sent to 5.6 million potential claimants.
The Washington State Attorney General’s office and Spokane-based Better Business Bureau of the Inland Northwest said they have received few complaints about polybutylene plumbing. But one local repairman said the pipes have been wreaking havoc on dozens of Inland Northwest mobile homes.
“They’re garbage,” said Jim Thompson, an apprentice with his father’s company, Jim Thompson’s Home Repair. “I get a lot of calls on this. A lot of floors have been ruined.”
Thompson, however, said he’s had no success thus far getting Shell or DuPont to reimburse homeowners for damage. He said that, in his experience, an insurance company is more likely to cover the costs.
Homeowners will have until the year 2009 to file claims. More than 5.6 million notices were mailed to potential claimants and advertisements were placed in newspapers, national magazines and on television.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: How to apply Homeowners seeking to qualify under the settlement can call (800) 876-4698 to obtain a request form. To qualify, polybutylene plumbing must have been installed between Jan. 1, 1978, and Aug. 1, 1995.