Paint suit: Alaskans upset over mildew

Class-action suit says preservative didn't protect homes

Posted: Friday, January 19, 2001

A class action lawsuit has been filed on behalf of Alaska residents against the Behr Paint Corp., also known as Behr Process Corp., of Santa Ana, Calif.

The complaint alleges that the company's wood preservative products, Liquid RawHide and Natural Seal Plus, do not preserve wood from mildew, a common problem in damp climates like that of Southeast Alaska.

Randall Simpson, the Anchorage attorney handling the lawsuit, says that tests indicate the products actually encourage mildew production. His principal client is Elaine Price, a homeowner in Coffman Cove, near Ketchikan.

"It's hard to put an exact number" on how many Southeast homeowners might benefit from the lawsuit, Simpson said, but one Juneau painting contractor told him he had applied the products to more than 100 local homes. He estimates the suit could include more than 1,000 plaintiffs statewide.

Simpson mailed the filing earlier this week to Juneau Superior Court because most of the plaintiffs will be in this area.

Damages, if granted, would be calculated by the square feet of wood to which the Behr products were applied. To repair the damage, "they use an acid bath to strip the seal and the mildew, and then apply a better product," Simpson said today. "General costs in Washington state were running $18,000 to $30,000 for the exterior of a home, and $9,000 to $10,000 for a deck."

A judge in western Washington awarded triple damages "because of the intentional hiding of the results of tests" Behr conducted that revealed their products did not work, Simpson said.

Simpson said similar lawsuits have been filed in Oregon and California.

Samuel "Skip" Cypert, vice president of investor relations with Behr's parent company, Masco Co. in Detroit, Mich., suggested this morning that this lawsuit was about profit; that Simpson was just another lawyer out to make money.

"I presume it's one of those copycat suits filed after one in Grays Harbor, Wash.," Cypert said. "In that case, the judgment was for $2.1 million, and the lawyer got $1.1 million.

"They did not give us an opportunity to present a case. We think this was an error which will be reversed on appeal. We have not paid any damages in that case, and are appealing vigorously," he said.

"Behr products work as they are supposed to work when they are applied and maintained properly. Five of the seven defendants in the Washington case said they never read the directions," Cypert added.

Alaska consumers desiring more information about the lawsuit should contact Simpson at the Anchorage law firm of Jermain, Dunnagan and Owens, 907 563-8844.

Ann Chandonnet can be reached at

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