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Plaintiffs hold off on proposed settlement in toxic drywall suit

By Chelsea Bailey, CNN
  • Banner Supply has agreed to a $55 million proposed settlement
  • Attorneys accuse the company of withholding information they need to advise their clients
  • Officials determined the Chinese-made drywall emits sulfurous gas
  • People in 42 states claim severe health issues

(CNN) -- Attorneys representing families whose homes were built with toxic drywall say they will not advise their clients to accept a proposed $55 million settlement without first having several "fundamental questions" answered.

In a conference call Friday, plaintiffs' attorneys Victor Diaz and David Durkee claimed Miami-based Banner Supply is withholding essential information that would allow their clients to make informed decisions about whether or not to accept the proposed settlement.

"They refuse to tell us what assets Banner has ... As far as we know the company itself is contributing nothing to this settlement and they won't tell us how many people are going to split up this money," Diaz said. "If this really were a good settlement, there would be complete transparency of all of the facts so that consumers can make an informed decision."

Attorney's representing Banner Supply could not be reached by CNN Monday.

Homeowners involved in the suit have until the end of August to opt out of the proposed settlement. The plaintiffs' attorneys claim more than 32% of settlement money could go towards paying attorney fees -- possibly leaving their clients as little as $4,000 each to rebuild their homes.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has received more than 3,000 reports from residents of 42 states who alleged the drywall contributed to severe health issues, including chronic sinus and upper respiratory problems.

The homeowners also claim the drywall corroded metals in home appliances and fixtures throughout their homes.

In 2009, the product safety commission determined the drywall emits extraordinarily high levels of hydrogen sulfide and recommended that homes be completely gutted and electric components replaced.

In court documents, Banner Supply has said it "had no knowledge" the drywall was defective and that the Chinese-based manufacturer that provided Banner with the material is at fault.

Homeowner Ricardo Dabalsa of Florida said what should have been a dream home for his wife and three children turned out to be a traumatizing nightmare.

Dabalsa said his family moved into their custom-built home in December of 2006 and almost immediately noticed something was wrong. His children started getting sick, and within three years of living there, the air conditioning unit had to be replaced four times along with the microwave and the family computer.

But the toll it took on his family was far greater. Their youngest daughter, Nicole, was hospitalized more than 20 times before they moved out of the house. Doctors said she suffered from acute respiratory illnesses like asthma and bronchitis, but Dabalsa said she'd never been sick with asthma before.

"We spent Christmas of 2007 and New Year's Eve in the hospital with Nicole for pneumonia and bronchitis," Dabalsa's wife, Aliuska, said. "It affected me a lot ... I couldn't sleep at night."

Dabalsa learned of the toxic drywall in 2009 and immediately decided to replace the drywall throughout the house.

Though he hasn't decided if he will accept the terms of the proposed settlement, Dabalsa said no amount of money will make amends for what his family has suffered.

"For what we went through, honestly, it's never gong to be about money," Dabalsa said. "The house is safe now but if we smell something bad in the house, we're scared. If my child or my kids get a cold we worry ... it's really scary."