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Sep 1, 1996

Mass Tort Litigation Reporter

Naef v. Masonite

Al Jury Finds Masonite Siding Defective; 4 Million People Affected

An Alabama state court jury found on Sept. 13 that hardboard siding made by Masonite Corp. is defective, paving the way for damages that could total as much as $30-$40 billion. Naes et al. v. Masonite Corp. and International Paper Co., No. CV-94-4033 (AL Cir. Ct., Mobile Cty.).

The verdict came at the end of the first phase of the trial of a national class action brought on behalf of homeowners who installed the siding between 1980 and 1996. The lawsuit alleged that the hardboard siding's design allowed it to retain moisture, causing it to swell and rot.

Plaintiffs' attorney Robert Cunningham of Cunningham, Bounds, Yance, Crowder & Brown of Mobile said that as many as four million persons could be affected and that the estimated average cost of repairing the damages attributed to the siding is $10,000 for each building.

A unanimous, 12-person jury returned the verdict following a month-long trial before Judge Robert Kendall of the Mobile County Circuit Court.

The jury was asked to answer the following questions:

1. Have plaintiffs reasonably satisfied you that Masonite hardboard siding fails to meet the reasonable expectations of an ordinary consumer
2. Have plaintiffs reasonably satisfied you that Masonite hardboard siding is unreasonably prone to failure
3. Have plaintiffs reasonably satisfied you that Masonite hardboard siding is unreasonably prone to failure as designed, taking into consideration the siding's utility and its risk of failure
4. Have plaintiffs reasonably satisfied you that Masonite hardboard siding is not fit for the ordinary purposes for its intended use as an exterior siding product
5. Have plaintiffs reasonably satisfied you that an ordinarily prudent company making exterior siding, being fully aware of the risk of product failure, would not have put Masonite hardboard siding on the market

The jury answered no to Question No. 3 and yes to the other questions.

Cunningham said that the plaintiffs presented approximately 78 witness during the trial and that the defendants presented about a dozen.

He said that the proceedings to decide the damages could be months away. Cunningham said that, in the absence of a settlement, which he said was possible, the damages and other legal issues would be decided during Phase II of the trial.

In a statement released Sept. 15, Masonite said that the siding works well when properly handled and installed and that fewer than 1% of its customers have product complaints.

"The jury reached a mixed result, finding for the plaintiffs on four of five questions..., but also finding that the Masonite product was not 'unreasonably prone to failure as designed....' We are obviously disappointed that the jury did not answer all of the questions in our favor but there are a number of critical legal and factual issues that still need to be resolved," the company said.

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