By Joaquin Sapien
A Georgia state court has preliminarily approved an amended settlement for people who say they bought contaminated drywall from Lowe’s Companies Inc.
Lowe’s, the nation’s No. 2 home improvement chain, is offering as much as $100,000 in cash to customers who can prove they bought drywall from the retailer and also prove that it caused at least $4,500 in damages. The contaminated drywall releases high amounts of sulfur gas, which can corrode copper wiring and cause air conditioners and other electrical appliances to fail. Some homeowners have also complained that the drywall has affected their health by triggering respiratory problems, bloody noses and headaches. Repairing a house built with defective drywall can easily cost $100,000.
Last year, Lowe’s negotiated a settlement that offered far less money to victims: a maximum of $4,500 in cash and gift cards. The handful of attorneys who negotiated that deal carved out a separate payment of $2.1 million. But following a ProPublica and Sarasota Herald-Tribune story on the settlement, Lowe’s returned to the negotiating table and offered its customers $100,000. A fairness hearing will be held on the new settlement on October 12. Superior Court Judge Bobby Peters will hear arguments for and against the amended settlement and decide whether the attorneys who negotiated the first deal are still entitled to their fee.
In the meantime, customers have begun filing claims through the settlement’s website: http://drywallsettlement.info.
Frank Liantonio, an attorney representing Lowe’s, said that more than 24,000 claim forms have already been submitted and there have been more than 100,000 hits on the settlement website. He said it isn’t known yet how many of the claimants are asking for the $100,000 payment.
Customers are still eligible for two other levels of compensation that were written into the previous settlement: a $50 gift card for those who have no proof of purchase but sign a form saying they bought drywall from Lowe’s, and a $250 gift card for those who have proof of purchase but no documentation that they’ve suffered any damages. Those who qualified for the original maximum payment of $4,500 in cash and gift cards will receive a notice informing them that they are now eligible for up to $100,000 in cash.
“Lowe’s recognized the importance of fairly protecting the rights of their customers,” said Gregg Weiss, an attorney with Leopold & Kuvin, P.A., who helped forge the amended settlement. “This agreement brings justice to consumers who desperately needed to tackle the costly process of remediating their homes and will finally give our clients the resources they need to makes their lives whole again.”
The amended settlement will also be advertised at the bottom of all Lowe’s receipts and in three national publications: Parade Magazine, USA Weekend and National Geographic.