Class action settlements may aid in repairing leaky pipes

CONSUMING INTERESTS

September 04, 2008|By DAN THANH DANG | DAN THANH DANG,dan.thanh.dang@baltsun.com

The Q:

Nothing strikes fear in a homeowner's heart like the drip, drip, drip or gurgle of leaky pipes in your abode.

While some leaks might be no big deal, others might require a full replacement of all the pipes in your home. Should your home contain polybutylene piping, you might have some financial help available - thanks to two multimillion-dollar class action lawsuits that will cover either 100 percent or 10 percent of the replacement work.

Reader Jolene Wagner said she has polybutylene piping in her home, but she isn't sure she qualifies because her pipes aren't leaking.

"No piping in my home has yet broken," Wagner said. "How will I qualify for the class action suit?"

Reader Judie McStars said a plumber recently discovered a polybutylene pipe leak in the side yard of her Ellicott City home. The pipes were installed 16 years ago, she said.

McStars suspects that her home does not qualify under the Cox Class Action Suit, but she wonders if "you know of any other suits or compensation available at this time? It disheartens me that an inferior product was used and that it will cost so much to replace."

The A:

Polybutylene piping is made from a plastic resin and was used extensively in residential construction from 1978 to 1995. The system, which was used for the main plumbing from the water meter to the house and the supply pipes inside the house, consists of the pipe and acetal or metal fittings.

For those who aren't sure, PB pipe for main plumbing lines can be blue, but the piping is usually gray and sometimes black plastic. Acetal fittings are usually gray and occasionally white plastic, while the pipe and fittings are secured by crimp rings made of aluminum or copper. PB pipes may be visible in the attic, basement, behind the walls or near the water heater of the home or structure in which they were installed.

It is believed that PB pipe was installed in 6 million to 10 million homes during those 17 years. By 1980, frequent failures of the piping were reported, and several lawsuits were filed as a result. Homeowners affected by PB pipe leaks may seek recourse through two class action suits: Cox v. Shell Oil et al. or Spencer v. Shell Oil et al.

Homeowners may qualify for a free plumbing replacement and possible compensation for damages if they file their claims by May 1, 2009, under the Cox suit, which is run by the Consumer Plumbing Recovery Center (CPRC), the authorized administrator of the settlement.

Established in 1995, the $1.1 billion Polybutylene Pipe Settlement Fund has spent more than $976 million to provide relief to homeowners. Under Cox, you must have a leak in your pipes to qualify.

Under the terms of Spencer, $120 million was committed to the settlement fund. If you qualify, you can be reimbursed for 10 percent of the cost of replacing a plumbing system of PB pipe connected with acetal plastic fittings and 10 percent of any past damage caused by leaks that you were not reimbursed for, but only if you have replaced the system.

You can qualify under this settlement if you replace your system within 15 years of its installation. This 15-year limitation does not apply if you acquired your property after Nov. 1, 1999, and you replaced your system by Dec. 31, 2003.

"You don't have to have a leak to qualify for the Spencer Class Facility," said John Mashburn, general manager of the fund administrator. "The only requirement is that you have Poly-B pipe and acetal fittings, because this was settled with DuPont, which manufactured the fittings, not the pipe. You don't have to have a leak, but you would have to have replaced all the plumbing in your house to be eligible, and you'll only get 10 percent of the cost of the replumb.

"Anything built before 1993 is no longer eligible," Mashburn said. "They quit making acetal in '89. You're running out of time to file a claim on both class action suits."

Since 1996, Mashburn says, almost 8,000 people have filed claims with the Spencer Class Facility.

There are far more details on the terms and conditions of both lawsuits. If you're not sure whether you qualify for either suit or have detailed questions about your qualifications, you should call or write for more information.

For the Cox suit, call 800-392-7591 or visit www.pbpipe.com for more information, directions on how to file a claim and to access claim forms.

For the Spencer suit, call 800-490-6997 or visit www.spencerclass.com for more information about requirements and claim forms.

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