5 On Your Side

Poor plastic pipes lead to class-action settlement

Posted July 16, 2008 5:18 p.m. EDT
Updated July 17, 2008 10:03 a.m. EDT

— Tyjuanna LaBennett is already dealing with a sinking driveway, supported by 10 feet of railroad ties, but that's not the only problem with her Cary home.

“One minute, I’m in my house having breakfast and the next minute, it was flooded,” LaBennett said.

LaBennett’s home had polybutylene pipes, which were used in homes from about 1978 to 1995. The pipes burst, causing her ceiling to come crashing down.

LaBennett said it was similar to a “waterfall.”

Polybutylene pipes are usually gray. The makers of the pipe settled a class-action lawsuit in 1995. As part of the settlement, homeowners who experience leaks within a certain time frame can have their homes replumbed for free. A replumbing job can cost thousands of dollars.

Depending on the type of fittings used, a leak has to happen either within 13 or 16 years of installation, and all claims must be filed by next May, according to the settlement. Unfortunately for LaBennett, her leak didn't happen soon enough to qualify. She paid about $8,000 to have her home replumbed. In addition, part of the damages were not covered by insurance.

“So this poly piping has caused me thousands of dollars worth of damage,” LaBennett said.

Experts are split on the likelihood of a leak and whether it’s worth the expense for owners of homes that have it to go ahead and replace poly pipe even if it hasn't leaked.

But LaBennett is clear where she stands, however. After what she's been through with polybutylene pipe, she thinks homeowners should seriously consider replacing it.

“I can’t tell you how much stress that has caused me … to endure all of that,” LaBennett said.

So far, more than 334,000 people have had their homes replumbed as part of the settlement. More than 15,000 of those customers were in North Carolina. About 20,000 additional North Carolinians filed claims that were rejected.