Class Action Status Granted in Louisiana Sick Building Suit

A state District Court judge has granted class action status to a lawsuit that claims contaminants sickened workers when the Louisiana Department of Revenue was housed for more than 20 years at a former Sears department store building in Baton Rouge.

Lewis Unglesby, attorney for five plaintiffs named in the initial lawsuits, told The Advocate that he hopes the ruling by state District Judge Janice Clark’s will encourage the state and Olshan-WS Associates – which owned the former store on Florida Boulevard and leased it to the revenue department from 1979-2001 – to begin settlement talks with the plaintiffs.

Class -action suits typically are filed when a group of people have similar injuries or seek damages from the same event or a series of events.

Nearly 300 current and former state employees who worked at the building have filled out forms complaining of health problems allegedly associated with the old building, Unglesby said during hearings while Clark was considering the request for class action status.

“I think it (the class) will be higher than that (300). Those are the ones who came forward initially,” Unglesby. “You would anticipate it would expand.”

Several present and former employees testified at the hearing that their exposure to contaminants resulted in respiratory problems, asthma and allergy-like symptoms such as runny noses, itchy and watery eyes, sneezing, coughing and headaches.

Attorneys for the state and Olshan-WS Associates objected to any class action certification, arguing at hearings that there is not a common causation for the alleged injuries.

The company and state attorneys contend smoking, workplace and household dust and other factors could have caused the injuries alleged by the plaintiffs.

Clark issued her ruling on Wednesday, saying class action certification was “well founded.”

Attorneys for the state and Olshan-WS Associates could not be reached for comment on the judge’s decision and whether they will file an appeal.