Katrina Formaldehyde Plaintiffs: Not A Class

Judge Kurt Engelhardt of the Eastern District of Louisiana, who held in October that the Federal Emergency Management Agency does not enjoy immunity from suit by plaintiffs seeking to recover from exposure to formaldehyde in trailers, yesterday dealt plaintiffs a setback by holding that they are not entitled to present their claims against various trailer manufacturers through a class action.

I have not read the opinion, but one can find a good summary of the issues presented in this story from the Times Picayune, which emphasizes the court’s concern over impossibility of determining liability, proximate causation of injury, and damages for a “class” of people of varying health, age, demographics, and lengths of exposure.  Each plaintiff will have to try his or her case separately.

All of the above are individual issues that render analysis on a class-wide basis utterly impossible, ” Engelhardt ruled in a 50-page decision. “Each plaintiff’s claims and alleged injuries will require an examination of individual evidence.

This makes sense because, from a practical standpoint, it would be impossible to present over 100 chemical injury claims to one jury, a problem that isn’t present in class settlements such as Vioxx.  (The Vioxx case still had problems aplenty.)  The opinion also emphasizes that each of the trailer manufacturer defendants may have separate defenses, including different manufacturing techniques and levels of formaldehyde within its trailers.

If anyone knows of a publicly available link to the opinion (I’m not writing this from a computer where a PACER download would be practical), it would be greatly appreciated.


  • The Vioxx settlement wasn’t a class action, and the only courts to consider certification of the Vioxx suits as a personal injury class action rejected it on the same grounds as this court. In re Vioxx Products Liability Litigation, 2006 WL 3391432 (E. D. La. Nov. 22, 2006).

  • Thanks for the clarification on the tangent Ted. I couldn’t determine, from your own reporting on the matter, which is where I went to research it, whether the settlement had gone forward or not (I blame keywords and trying to blog while writing a summary judgment brief at work), and ignored certification issues at other blogs.

    Of course an enrollment of 43000 or more people into a settlement is close enough for the lay definition of a “class,” whether or not a judge has ordered Rule 23 certification.

  • Is there a lay definition of “class”? I’d prefer not to confuse it, when (1) the main problem with class actions is the attempt to make class actions out of cases inappropriate for class certification; and (2) the perfectly appropriate “mass tort” applies.

    I’m updating it in a longer publication, but I wrote about the various Vioxx class actions here in 2006.