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Defective products hurt county water supply

Products liability is a major source of litigation in the United States. Defective products can have serious, even deadly consequences, and litigation is sometimes the only tool available to hold companies accountable.

In Coweta County, Georgia, the local board of commissioners and the water and sewage authority recently reached a settlement in a products liability lawsuit the county brought against Orangeburg Industries and others.

The lawsuit concerned water pipes containing a polybutylene resin, which were installed 30 years ago. The county sued the parties involved for negligence, breach of contract, product liability, fraud and violations of the Georgia RICO Act.

The lawsuit, filed in 2008, sought $25 million in damages. Additional parties to the suit included Shell, Vanguard Plastics and Orangeburg Industries. Shell manufactured the pipes, and Vanguard and Orangeburg helped market them.

A settlement was reached with Shell and Vanguard early on. Additional unnamed parties were also released from the suit prior to the recent settlement.

The details of the settlement with Orangeburg are unclear because the parties entered into a confidentiality agreement prohibiting the disclosure of its terms.

The pipes manufactured by Shell were used for service lines that ran between the water line and customers' houses. The defect in the pipe caused substantial water loss for consumers and the county throughout the last decade.

In 2005, the county estimated a water loss of 10.84 percent, the difference between the water moving from the main to consumers. In 2006, the water loss multiplied dramatically, and by 2007, water loss reached nearly 50 percent.

The Coweta County lawsuit was premised on what they describe as a serious misrepresentation of the product. According to insiders, the pipes were sold as easy to install, resistant to deterioration and having a lifespan of 50 years or more.

Although there were no physical injuries, there were significant environmental and financial losses. According to Authorities, the defective pipe affected an estimated 15,000 customers of the 24,500 total Coweta County Water Authority's customers.

Source: Times-Herald.com, "County, water authority settle faulty pipes suit; terms not disclosed," Brenda Pedraza-Vidamour, Dec. 22, 2011

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