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Family stuck in Chinese drywall nightmare waits on courts to rule

A north shore family loves the house they live in, but hate what it's doing to them. They're living with toxic Chinese drywall, shut out of settlements to fix the problem, and holding out for financial help that may never come.

"We don't know where to start, who to blame, what to do with it," said homeowner Joey Fatta. "We're sitting in our own prison here."

Joey and Tracy Fatta bought the fixer-upper in January 2005. A few months later, Katrina wrecked it.

"It put trees through the house and we had about 4 feet of water in the house," Fatta said.

Their passion for the old house motivated them to keep working, but Gulf hurricanes and a housing boom made things like drywall hard to find.

"There was no drywall," said attorney Becnel. The U.S. manufacturers produced everything they could because it wasn't enough," said attorney Danny Becnel.

Joey Fatta said building materials were so scarce he didn't care where the drywall came from. He just needed drywall.

"You can do a lot of things in an old home," said Tracy Fatta.

They finally got their drywall in 2007 and the north shore teacher, her husband and son, Gabe, moved in. Over the next few months, strange things started to happen.

"We've had to replace the panel in the microwave four times. The dishwasher doesn't work, and the air-conditioner keeps going out," Joey Fatta said.

Copper tubing in the central air unit is black. The same issues were happening to other people, too.

"Everything has to come out, back down to the studs," said Tracy Fatta with tears in her eyes.

Thousands of Katrina victims along the Gulf Coast discovered they also had toxic Chinese drywall made by Taishun Gypsum or the German company Knauf that manufactured drywall in China.

The Fattas had Taishun drywall, and that made a bad situation worse.

"With Taishun, it's a Chinese company," said Joey Fatta. "Taishun says they don't recognize any U.S. court jurisdictions. They aren't paying out anything. It's not their problem."

Becnel is a member of the plaintiff's steering committee.

"Right now, the Chinese government, since they own the company Taishun, is saying ‘sorry guys, you can't do anything against us because we're immune.'"

That leaves the Fattas in a drywall no man's land. They're still living in their beautiful - but toxic - home.

"We can't sell it, because we have to disclose issues with the house like Chinese drywall. That devalues it to the shell of the house. We can't put $150,000 into renovating it because we may never get that back. We have nowhere to go," Joey Fatta said.

The only hope is in the courts.

The plaintiff's steering committee said the Fattas and other victims in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida look to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals for relief. In January, the 5th Circuit upheld U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon's decision that Taishun can be sued by victims in the state of Virginia. Rulings on whether Taishun is liable in Louisiana are expected soon.

"I would think in the next month or two we would have an opinion out of the 5th Circuit," Becnel said. "If we lose, that's the end of it.""

The Fattas worry about the dangers they can't see.

"The drywall's in the air. People have complained about asthma-type symptoms. We've been fortunate that we haven't had that yet, but you never know," Joey Fatta said.

Tracy worries something will surface as her son grows. She looks at her son's bathroom with drywall covered in beautiful paintings that will all have to be ripped apart.

"It's still my home," she said. I don't want it to be just a house. I want it to be a home."

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