A team of U.S. Virgin Islands and stateside lawyers are chasing a major U.S. lumber company in a class action U.S. District Court lawsuit over the sale of “inadequately treated” lumber in the U.S. Virgin Islands which has left scores of homes and structures susceptible to wood fungi, termites or other organisms.
Great Southern Lumber of Atlanta, Georgia, is the only defendant in the second amended complaint in the lawsuit, according to Atty. Lee Rohn of the Rohn Law Firm on St. Croix and St. Thomas.
Local counsel has managed to mediate local clients out of the lawsuit, but that doesn’t mean the class action lawsuit – complete with stateside counsel specializing in class action lawsuits – is any easier to explain to potential plaintiffs.
“Lumber inadequately treated to resist insects, moisture and fungi was sold by Paradise Lumber on St. John and MSI and possible other retailers on St. Thomas in the years following January 1, 2004, according to a lawsuit,” the ad in the February 2, 2014, edition of Tradewinds read.
“This lawsuit, filed by local counsel Lee Rohn of St. Croix, who is working with the Washington, D.C., based national consumer law firm of Cuneo, Gilbert & LaDuca, LLP, claims that Great Southern knew the wood was substandard and dumped it in Caribbean markets to escape stateside accountability,” the ad continued.
“Paradise and MSI Not Defendants”
“Paradise and MSI are not defendants,” Atty. Rohn told Tradewinds on Thursday, February 6. “In this class action they are not defendants; Great Southern is the only defendant. We haven’t dropped any defendants. We never sued Paradise Lumber.”
“The actual party responsible for the substandard wood is Great Southern Wood Preserving Inc., based in Atlanta,” the ad in Tradewinds continued.
“Our case is primarily against Great Southern because they are the one’s that failed to properly treat the wood and they knew they were sending out defective wood,” Atty. Rohn subsequently reiterated in an interview with Tradewinds.
The Rohn Firm moved to file a class action lawsuit “to protect anyone” who may have been affected by the inadequately treated lumber, the attorney explained.
“All the plaintiffs wanted to do was protect their neighbors,” Atty. Rohn said.
“The defendant, Great Southern, have said they would fight a class action, which could stall the case,” Atty. Rohn acknowledged. “We are going to try to find every single person affected and give them the opportunity to join the lawsuit – a mass tort suit.”
“We have been contacted by about 30 people,” Atty. Rohn said of her firm’s efforts to enlist more plaintiffs – even if they had previously signed a release of their claim.
“A release is not enforceable if it is obtained under fraud,” Atty. Rohn explained. “They (Great Southern) knew the wood was defective.”
(The firm’s ad in Tradewinds read: “Thus far about 40 St. John residents have joined a suit seeking damages in federal court against Great Southern.”)
Closed Mediation Session in January
Lawyers representing the multiple potential parties and island residents already involved in the legal action met in a closed mediation session at the Westin Resort over several days in January – before the Rohn firm’s advertisement was published seeking other potential clients who could join the class action.
“Victims (known as ‘plaintiffs’) are entitled to recover damages beyond the cost of replacement lumber,” the Rohn ad continued. “Among those damages are labor costs to remove, replace and dispose of the defective wood, replacement and installation of any other materials damaged by the wood, and compensation for diminished property values and suffering and mental anguish.”
“A forensic wood technologist identified several problems with the defective wood including inadequate penetration depth and incorrect ratios of chemicals used to treat the wood,” the Rohn ad explained. “The wood does not meet the standards of the American Wood Protection Association (AWPA) or the International Code Council Evaluation Service (ICC-ES).”
Island Expert Shut Out of Mediation
Ironically, the only AWPA member in the Caribbean, long-time St. John resident Todd Roskin of St. John Solutions pest control, wasn’t allowed to attend the closed mediation session in January.
Roskin said flyers he left outside the meeting room appeared to have been removed during the mediation, so he also paid to insert the flyer in the on-island and off-island circulation of St. John Tradewinds to reach island property owners with the professional information about treatment for wood used in construction in the Caribbean environment.
“The expected life of properly treated wood should be 30 years or more, with numerous companies offering lifetime warranties,” according to the Rohn Law Firm ad in Tradewinds.
“The substandard wood sold in our islands, however, can fail as early as two-to-three years because it cannot resist wood fungi, termites or other organisms,” the ad continued. “Degradation of inadequately treated wood can spread to adjacent wood products and threaten the entire structure and electrical, plumbing and gutter systems.”
Roskin agreed, but the wood treatment expert said the wood treatment problem in the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Caribbean has not been corrected.
“Rampant Sale” of Improper
“In 2014 we are still being sold lumber that will quickly fail in our environment,” Roskin told Tradewinds in January.
“The rampant sale UC4A lumber in our UC4C environment has people sustaining severe damage to their lumber and personal injuries related to lumber failure after a 3-5 year service life,” Roskin said. “Pressure treated lumber is now designed for a specific environment.”
“The American Wood Protection Association sets standards for the treating processes,” Roskin continued. “It also defines appropriate treatment and end use of that treated lumber. The Use Category System lays all this out.”
“We are being sold Use Category 4A Lumber for ground contact,” Roskin continued. “This is the lumber made for use in areas of low potential for wood decay and insect attack.”
“The Virgin Islands is an area of extremely high potential for wood decay,” Roskin said. “The Use Category System tells us to use UC4C lumber.”
“I advise anyone building to check your end tags and talk to your lumber dealer about what they have for sale,” added Raskin. “If it says UC4A it’s not made to be used in the Virgin Islands and it will not last.”