Know the History on Polybutylene Lawsuits

5 min read

Polybutylene lawsuits have a storied history in the United States, with their origins rooted in widespread plumbing failures. This type of piping, used extensively from the 1970s to the mid-1990s, became the subject of numerous class-action lawsuits due to its tendency to fail prematurely. One notable case was Cox vs. Shell Oil Co., filed in Tennessee in the 1990s over faulty polybutylene plastic plumbing. The combined class-action lawsuits against Poly B™ made it one of the highest pre-settlement lawsuits in North American history, with homeowners often awarded significant compensation for damages caused by these defective pipes. The controversy surrounding polybutylene pipes eventually led to the cessation of their production after 1995. 

The Emergence of Polybutylene Plumbing Systems

In the realm of residential construction during the 1980s, a new player emerged on the scene - polybutylene. This type of plastic promised to revolutionize plumbing systems with its affordability and durability compared to traditional copper pipes.

Rapid adoption of polybutylene plumbing in the 1980s

Builders were quick to embrace this innovative material, especially in rapidly developing regions like California, Texas, and Florida. The appeal was clear: cost-effective materials that simplified installation processes seemed perfect for fast-paced construction projects where efficiency was paramount.

However, within just a few years after their debut, these promising pipelines started showing signs of trouble ranging from minor leaks to full-blown water damage caused by burst pipes.

Factors contributing to the failure of polybutylene pipes

A variety of factors contributed towards the downfall, which led homeowners down a path filled with costly repairs and legal battles against manufacturers. One key culprit was poor design, with many fittings made using cheap materials that couldn't withstand long-term exposure to common chemicals found in tap water, such as chlorine.

Faulty manufacturing also played a significant role here. Many pipes had defects right from the production stage itself, leading them to be susceptible to premature degradation over time under normal usage conditions.

Beyond design and manufacturing issues, sub-par installation practices often resulted in improperly fitted connections, causing undue stress on pipe joints and thereby increasing the likelihood of leaks occurring sooner than expected. Some contractors even went so far as to reuse old damaged parts instead of replacing them entirely during repair jobs, further exacerbating the problem at hand.

Role of Major Companies

The rise and fall of polybutylene plumbing systems were not random events, but rather the result of decisions made by three key players: Shell Oil Company, Hoechst Celanese Corporation, and US Brass Corporation. Each company played a significant role in this saga.

Production history of Shell's polybutylene resin

In 1977, Shell Oil Company, a global leader in oil production, began manufacturing an innovative material known as polybutylene resin. The new plastic was hailed for its cost-effectiveness compared to traditional copper pipes due to its corrosion resistance properties.

This revolutionary product promised durability with minimal maintenance requirements, which attracted many homeowners who installed these piping systems into their homes. However, it wasn't long before reports started surfacing about leaks from these supposedly durable pipes.

A closer look revealed that chlorine, commonly found in tap water, caused degradation over time, leading to pipe failures despite assurances given by the manufacturers regarding longevity. Reports suggest that even after knowing the potential risks associated with using Polybutylene, Shell continued producing them until 1996 when they finally decided to stop amidst increasing lawsuits related to pipe failure incidents.

Use of Hoechst's Celcon by US Brass Corporation for pipe fittings

Hoechst Celanese Corporation, another major player involved, contributed significantly towards the popularity of the flawed plumbing system through their acetal compound called 'Celcon' used extensively in making fittings integral to any plastic-based pipeline setup introduced during the late '70s and early '80s period.

Celcon is highly resistant against fatigue wear and tear properties, leading industry experts to believe it would make a perfect fit within household environments where constant pressure changes are the norm. Unfortunately, like Polybutylene, Celcon too had unforeseen vulnerabilities primarily stemming from reactions between chemicals present in public water supplies, causing them to fail prematurely.

US Brass Corp, the third main actor in the story, purchased both products and designed their own brand Qest Plumbing Systems, leveraging the benefits these materials offer while ignoring the inherent risks associated with them.

Key Takeaway: 

The polybutylene plumbing saga is a tale of corporate oversight, with Shell Oil Company, Hoechst Celanese Corporation, and US Brass Corporation at the helm. Despite early promises of durability and cost-effectiveness, these companies ignored warning signs about their products' vulnerabilities to common chemicals in tap water - leading to widespread pipe failures and an avalanche of lawsuits.

Initial Litigation on Leaky Plumbing Systems

The journey of polybutylene pipes from being a celebrated innovation to becoming the center of class-action lawsuits is nothing short of intriguing. The story unfolds with homeowners experiencing significant issues with these supposedly durable and cost-effective plumbing systems, leading to an avalanche of legal actions in the late 1980s.

First Cases Filed by Homeowners Over Leaking Pipes

In this initial phase, it was home builders and municipalities who found themselves under fire for installing faulty plumbing systems that were causing more harm than good. However, when individual homeowners began filing suits against those they believed responsible for their damaged properties due to leaking pipes, things took a serious turn.

This wave primarily hit Texas and California where homeowners sought compensation for damages caused by defective PB pipe installations. These cases served as critical milestones in acknowledging the widespread problem associated with polybutylene piping pokes - problems that were about to escalate into one massive lawsuit let homeowners take action.

Lawsuit Initiated by James Moriarty Against Major Companies Involved

The year 1987 marked another turning point when attorney James Moriarty filed his landmark lawsuit against major manufacturing companies like US Brass Corporation along with Shell Oil Company - both heavily involved in producing materials used in these problematic plumbing systems.

Moriarty's allegations included negligence among other charges such as fraud and misrepresentation about product quality which had led many unsuspecting consumers down a path filled with property damage and financial losses. The suit also implicated General Homes Corporation - one of the largest homebuilders at the time, widely known for using PB resin despite knowing the potential risks involved.

Altogether, the events unfolding during this period played an instrumental role in shaping the course of history surrounding the use and disposal of PolyButylene (PB) pipe in residential and commercial construction, forever changing the landscape of the American housing market in ways unimaginable before.

The Impact Of Moriarty's Lawsuit On Future Polybutylene Claims

Moriarty's pursuit paved the way for future litigations related to polybutylene claims, bringing the issue into the national spotlight and compelling industry giants to take notice of the consequences their actions inflicted

Key Takeaway: 

The saga of polybutylene pipes, once hailed as a breakthrough, spiraled into contentious class-action lawsuits when homeowners experienced major issues. The turning point was in 1987 with James Moriarty's lawsuit against big manufacturers for negligence and fraud. This case forever altered the American housing market and set the stage for future polybutylene-related litigation.

Beginning of Class Action Litigation

The class-action lawsuit polybutylene pipe saga took a decisive turn when collective legal action was initiated. This provided an avenue for homeowners who had suffered due to faulty polybutylene plastic plumbing systems to seek justice.

Michael Caddell's Lead Role in PB Class Action Case

In the midst of this litigation storm emerged Michael Caddell, a seasoned attorney known for his prowess in handling complex litigations. He stepped up as lead counsel in one of the most impactful cases concerning faulty building material - Cox v. Shell Oil Co., et al. Cox v. Shell Settlement.

Caddell's strategic approach led him through intricate legal processes associated with large-scale lawsuits like these, offering affected parties huge relief efficiently. His leadership enabled him to unite countless victims into a powerful front that could stand toe-to-toe with giant companies in PB piping manufacturing.

Impactful Outcome of Cox v. Shell Settlement

Negotiating settlement terms: The defendants agreed upon settlements amounting to over $1 billion dollars, out of which about 92% went towards homeowner relief, while the remaining covered administrative costs and attorney fees. This settlement is considered one of the most successful long polybutylene-related settlements ever recorded, proving the efficiency of large-scale legal actions.

Affected houses: More than 320,000 homes received full re-plumb repair without any cost incurred on the part of homeowners. Polybutylene plumbing system failure repairs or replacements case study link here.

Precedence set: This landmark decision demonstrated how powerful collective action could be when individuals band together against corporate negligence or misconduct. The generous compensation awarded as part of the settlement brought substantial financial relief to many homeowners burdened by costly repairs or replacements due to their defective PB pipes made from PB resin produced

Key Takeaway: 

The polybutylene class-action lawsuit, spearheaded by seasoned attorney Michael Caddell, brought justice and substantial relief to homeowners burdened with faulty plumbing systems. This landmark case underscored the power of collective action against corporate negligence, setting a precedent for future large-scale legal actions.

FAQs in Relation to Polybutylene Lawsuit

What is the class action settlement for polybutylene pipe?

The Cox v. Shell Oil Co. case resulted in a $1 billion settlement, with 92% going towards homeowner relief for re-plumbing costs.

Will insurance companies insure a house with polybutylene pipes?

Some insurers may deny coverage or charge higher premiums due to the increased risk of water damage from these pipes.

Do you really need to replace polybutylene pipes?

Polybutylene pipes are prone to failure and can cause significant property damage, so replacement is generally recommended.

When did the polybutylene class action lawsuit end?

The major class-action suit, Cox v. Shell Oil Co., ended in 1995 when the court approved a landmark $1 billion settlement.


Understanding the history of polybutylene lawsuits can be a daunting task.

The 1980s saw rapid adoption of these plumbing systems, only for them to fail due to poor design and faulty manufacturing.

Major companies like Shell Oil Company, Hoechst Celanese Corporation, and US Brass Corporation played significant roles in this saga.

Initial litigation emerged from homeowners dealing with leaky pipes and culminated in one of the most successful class-action lawsuits ever recorded.

If you're a homeowner with plumbing issues, or just want to ensure your pipes are up-to-date and reliable, Repipe Experts can help provide peace of mind.

We are here to help. With our expertise in replacing old piping systems with new ones that meet current standards, we can give you peace of mind knowing your home's infrastructure is sound. 

It's time to take action now. Don’t Delay! Repipe Today!

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Repipe Experts can help assess what needs replacing, provide quality materials, and complete your project in a timely manner with minimal disruption.

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Related Frequently Asked Questions

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Should polybutylene pipes be replaced?

Yes, polybutylene pipes should be replaced. Due to their age, polybutylene pipes can become prone to cracking and leaking, which can create expensive repairs or water damage in the home. Repipe Experts offer a reliable solution that is cost-effective and ensures long-term safety for homeowners. With their experience and expertise, they provide an efficient replacement process that eliminates any potential risks associated with old plumbing systems.

Learn more about polybutylene: Polybutylene Replacement - The Homeowners Essential Guide

What is the life expectancy of polybutylene pipes?

The typical lifespan of polybutylene pipes is between 20-25 years, but this can be affected by environmental factors like high chlorine or other contaminants. Homeowners should inspect their plumbing regularly to identify any potential signs of corrosion or deterioration caused by harsh water conditions, such as high chlorine levels or other contaminants. If these problems occur, then it may be time to consider repiping with a different material.

Learn more about polybutylene: Polybutylene Replacement - The Homeowners Essential Guide

What is the best replacement for polybutylene pipes?

The best replacement for polybutylene pipes is PEX piping. PEX has been used as a reliable plumbing material and its durability, flexibility, and resistance to corrosion make it an ideal choice for repiping projects. It also withstands temperature fluctuations compared to other materials such as PVC so it's great for hot water lines. In conclusion, PEX’s lack of toxic substances renders it an ideal choice for use in drinking water systems with no fear of contamination from metal or other contaminants present in corroded piping.

Learn more about polybutylene: Polybutylene Replacement - The Homeowners Essential Guide

Why is PEX replacing my Polybutylene?

Research suggests that polybutylene pipes are too fragile to withstand common disinfectants found in the public water supply and will quickly become brittle and crack from the inside out. Over time, once enough mini fractures have formed in the pipe, it will wear out completely, rupture, causing a leak or flooding of a home. This is why no insurance carriers will no longer cover a home with Polybutylene piping. Homes can no longer be sold in many areas without removing the polybutylene and repiping the homes water supply making it a requirement to repipe a home.

Learn more: Replace Polybutylene with a PEX Repipe

Learn more: It's Time to Replace Your Polybutylene

How much does it cost to repipe with PEX?

The cost of repiping with PEX will depend on the size and complexity of the job. Generally, it can range from a per “drop” price or a lump sum. A “drop” is a hot or cold line that feeds a fixture such as a sink or toilet. However, additional costs may be incurred if there are any complications such as accessing difficult areas, wall patching or replacing existing plumbing fixtures. Additionally, labor costs should also be taken into consideration when calculating the total cost of a repipe project. All in all, it is best to consult a qualified and licensed professional who can provide an accurate estimate based on your specific needs and requirements.

How long will the repipe take?

The Repipe is typically 1-2 days. After the Repipe, the City Inspector is requested to inspect the work. After the inspector passes the work, we can patch the walls should you choose to have us complete the drywall.

How big are the holes made during the repipe?

Typically there are 12 inch by 12 inch holes made in drywall surfaces to gain access. Typically one hole per fixture. Many plumbing companies make excessive holes for their convenience and don’t do the wall repair. Repipe Experts will replace the drywall and texture to make it paint ready for you.

How long does the inspection take?

This is up to the local governing municipality and is not controlled by Repipe Experts. We are at the mercy of the county schedule.

How long is the warranty?

The manufacturer warranty is 25 years on the pipe and the fittings. The workmanship warranty is for as long as you own your home.

Can a repipe increase the value of my home?

Yes! Many home buyers are making sure that the home was repiped prior to buying so they know there is longevity and not a concern of slab leaks.

Learn more: Benefits of a Whole House Repipe with PEX