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Attorneys settle nationwide home siding lawsuit against Masonite Corp.

July 15, 1997

MOBILE, Ala. (AP) _ Masonite Corp. cited the risk of a huge jury award Tuesday in settling a nationwide lawsuit over defective home siding, a deal the company said would not exceed $150 million in repairs.

The lawsuit settlement, announced Monday, came as a trial in Mobile was set to open on the size of damages against Chicago-based Masonite. It had earlier lost a jury decision over its liability.

With some 4 million homeowners potentially affected, a jury verdict could have ranged into the hundreds of millions of dollars or more against Masonite, whose parent company is International Paper of Purchase, N.Y.

``The risk was just too great, given the history of those kinds of awards,″ Masonite spokesman Russ Adams said Tuesday.

Hardboard siding looks like wood, but its composition and manufacture differ.

The company has blamed product failure on improper installation, but plaintiffs contended in the lawsuit that it rots.

Adams said the settlement, if approved by a judge, would require homeowners who believe they have damaged siding to file a claim, and any amounts paid would be on an individual basis following an inspection of the property. The case affects siding produced after 1980.

Nationally, Masonite hardboard siding was used in 4.3 million structures, according to company officials. Plaintiffs’ attorneys had estimated that at $10,000 per home, the company could face more than $40 billion in damages.

But Adams said less than 1 percent of the company’s exterior hardboard siding is subject to warranty claims each year. He said that amount falls within the $150 million estimate of the settlement’s maximum cost.

Mobile County Circuit Judge Robert Kendall is expected to make a decision on final approval of the settlement before the end of this year, attorneys said.

If approved, the parties would set up a system to notify siding customers.

Two court-appointed mediators _ Coleman Fannin of California and Jack Etheridge of Georgia, both former judges, worked out the settlement.

Judy Naef, the Mobile woman whose complaints started the Masonite lawsuit in 1994, called the settlement a victory for homeowners.

Last September, a circuit court jury ruled that Masonite’s hardboard siding produced after 1980 was defective, setting the stage for the damages phase of the trial.

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