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Some not satisfied with class action against Trex

March 10, 2010 6:08:12 PM PST
Installing a new patio and seeing it deteriorate within a couple of years can be both aggravating and costly. 7 On Your Side heard from several Bay Area homeowners who say that is what happened to them.

Complaints have been so widespread, both sides recently agreed to a class action settlement, but some are questioning whether the settlement is really fair to consumers.

Arlene Wong thought her new patio would be her dream patio. She had it installed three years ago in her San Mateo home. Then a year ago, she noticed something very troubling.

"I just happened to look down and I saw these little cracks," said Wong.

She called her contractor, Bruce Kendall, and he confirmed her suspicions.

"You can pull it up with your finger. It's not supposed to do that," said Kendall.

He pointed to areas of flaking and deterioration throughout the 2,000-square foot patio project. He thinks it will only get worse. He blamed the problem on Trex Decking, the manufacturer of the decking material he used to construct the patio.

"They went to a cheaper product which was a softer wood and that's what caused the problem," said Kendall.

Trex denies its material is prone to flaking, crumbling and peeling, but agreed to an out of court settlement in the face of a class action lawsuit filed in San Jose's federal court.

The settlement calls for Trex to replace the materials for free and up to $225 in labor costs. Wong has received estimates of anywhere from $5,000 to $21,000 for the labor to replace her deck. The settlement she says does not give her any satisfaction.

"The cost of labor itself, I know it's going to be high, and I just can't afford another expense that much," said Wong.

Five other Bay Area Trex deck owners have e-mailed 7 On Your Side with similar complaints and several others have called.

Those supporting tort reform criticize class action lawsuits as merely a tool to line the pockets of attorneys. ABC7 legal analyst Dean Johnson disagrees.

"The bottom line is something is better than nothing and in all likelihood, the class action suit is going to recover something for you, even if it's not everything you wanted," said Johnson.

Johnson says class actions can be an effective tool for consumers because the consumer has to put no money up front and spend very little time on the effort of going to court.

Deepak Gupta of Public Citizen echoes that, but also says consumers need to speak out about bad settlements.

"You should contact your state attorney general's office, you should contact the Federal Trade Commission or you should contact an organization like ours, Public Citizen, that represents consumers in objecting to settlements," says Gupta.

A law firm in Seattle has filed a formal objection to the Trex settlement. Meantime, attorneys for Trex told 7 On Your Side they fully expect the judge to approve the settlement.

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