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FEMA trailer safe, jury finds

Fri., Sept. 25, 2009, midnight

Mother, son said it exposed them to fumes

NEW ORLEANS – A federal jury Thursday rejected a New Orleans family’s claims that the government-issued trailer they lived in after Hurricane Katrina exposed them to dangerous fumes, with one juror saying the plaintiffs’ attorneys never had the “smoking gun” that proved their case.

Five men and three women decided that a trailer made by Gulf Stream Coach Inc. and occupied by Alana Alexander and her 12-year-old son, Christopher Cooper, was not “unreasonably dangerous” in its construction.

The jury also concluded that Fluor Enterprises Inc., which had a contract to install FEMA trailers, wasn’t negligent. The federal government wasn’t a defendant in this first of several “bellwether” trials, which are designed to help the New Orleans court test the merits and possibly resolve hundreds of other claims over formaldehyde exposure in FEMA trailers.

Lawyers on both sides of the trial wouldn’t speculate on how Thursday’s verdict could affect other cases.

Alexander and Cooper lived in a FEMA trailer for 19 months after Hurricane Katrina damaged their home in August 2005.

Alexander’s lawyers claimed elevated levels of formaldehyde aggravated Cooper’s asthma and increased his risk of getting cancer. Formaldehyde, a chemical commonly found in construction materials, can cause breathing problems and has been classified as a carcinogen.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys accused Gulf Stream and other trailer makers of using shoddy materials and methods in a rush to meet the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s unprecedented demand for temporary shelters after hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Gulf Stream denied its trailer jeopardized the health of Alexander and her family. A company lawyer also noted that Alexander took her son off a steroid medication for his asthma for more than two years.


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