One of the first and biggest cases of home leaks was the Sacramento apartments under repair in 2010. Photo / Brett Phibbs

A former James Hardie vice president says he remembers thinking he wouldn’t buy a house with the siding system now at the center of a $ 220 million lawsuit.

The James Hardie Group of Companies rejects claims by homeowners who blame Harditex monolithic siding for issues including moisture, mold and rot.

Brad Bridges told the Auckland High Court today that he works for James Hardie in three countries and remembers when claims of leaking buildings arose.

“It was troubling to me that Harditex was marketed as a coating system,” he said.

“I remember thinking that it should be tested completely and installed to exacting standards.”

Bridges worked for James Hardie from 1989 to 2002.

Harditex was sold in New Zealand from 1987 to 2005, and the court heard from an employee warned of major potential problems with the system in the mid-1990s.

“They were pushing Harditex as something new,” Bridges said in the class action lawsuit.

“I remember thinking I wouldn’t buy a house built with this system.”

Bridges said a manager at James Hardie in New Zealand once called a hostel built with Harditex a big hit.

The former vice president said he later found out that the hostel was suspected to be leaky.

Bridges has held various executive positions and in 2001 served as Senior Vice President in Mission Viejo, California.

He said the management team of the James Hardie Group, or GMT, believed the company should focus on growing fiber cement products globally.

“It was clear to me and to the GMT that more detail was needed and less ad hoc approach.”

He said that at one point, James Hardie appeared to have no one-size-fits-all best practice approach to testing and verifying products before they hit the market.

Bridges said he and other employees have visited companies such as Gillette and DuPont, which are known to have high standards in these areas.

The Auckland High Court trial is expected to last until at least September.  Photo / Nick Reed
The Auckland High Court trial is expected to last until at least September. Photo / Nick Reed

The former vice president said he returned from tours feeling James Hardie was very poorly endowed by comparison.

The owners suing James Hardie have claimed that Harditex had not been properly tested for New Zealand conditions.

Some have told the court of ruined dreams, rotten homes and angst over the years as homes plagued with extremely costly leaks and rots.

Bradley said he remembered hearing about a leaking building claim in Queenstown.

“I remember it was nothing compared to the much bigger Harditex problem in New Zealand.”

He said within the company he was told that the Harditex-related leaks were a builder’s problem.

“At the time, I thought James Hardie was dodging a bullet.

BUILDING INFLUENCE

Bridges said James Hardie had deployed push-through and pull-through marketing, where the influence spilled over to the construction industry and consumers would demand Harditex.

Intermediaries, such as construction merchants, would apply the push-through and influencers and investors would apply the pull-through.

“You influence architects. They influence consumers.”

He said the pull-through could manifest itself in TV advertising aimed at consumers who then ask their builder or architect Harditex.

But in cross-examination, Bridges said he does not oversee the company’s marketing in New Zealand at this time.

An ongoing question in the lawsuit concerns who of James Hardie’s many entities knew what and when.

The plaintiffs – the people suing James Hardie – argued that the company’s global leadership was aware of the Harditex issues before the product was withdrawn.

But the defense accused the owners of trying to hinder parent company James Hardie Industries PLC in the lawsuit.

The parent company is now domiciled in Ireland.

Defense attorney Jack Hodder QC asked Bridges about James Hardie’s business units and decision making.

Bridges said it was appropriate for separate business units to make marketing decisions.

Prof Michael Littlewood, an expert in tax evasion and tax law, said James Hardie’s entities are highly integrated.

But Hodder said it was just a guess.

“It’s obvious. I didn’t assume it,” Littlewood replied. “I formed this opinion on the basis of documents that I have seen.”

He added: “The higher the degree of integration, the greater the degree of tax savings achievable.”

“You don’t know the degree,” Hodder replied. “You cannot give us a useful opinion.”

MEGA-COMBINATION

Owners suing James Hardie’s entities say Harditex was vulnerable to water infiltration and relied on impeccable quality workmanship not to leak.

But James Hardie argued that poor building practices and industry deregulation were responsible for the leaks in homes.

In an evidentiary record presented to court, another former James Hardie employee said the use of untreated lumber and the lack of an eave could be responsible for the crisis.

The James Hardie group also suggested that the owners sue him because the builders, council inspectors and others involved don’t have as much money as he does.

The lawsuit is the largest leaked housing case in New Zealand history.

The trial before Judge Christian Whata continues.

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Source: www.nzherald.co.nz
This notice was published: 2021-05-30 23:18:14

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