Mold is an organism that develops in places where there is excessive moisture. This can happen when a home or building experiences a water leak such as a pip leak, a flood, a roof leak, or any other way in which water can enter. Mold can cause property damage.
Mold removal, also called mold remediation, can be costly and time consuming but it is absolutely necessary for the health and safety of those who use the building. Mold can be toxic to the human body and cause major health problems such as nausea, rashes or asthma.
Mold often affects places including workplaces, schools, or homes. Common places for mold to grow in a building are:
- In an air conditioning unit;
- In a basement that has flooded;
- Beneath a refrigerator;
- Beneath a bathroom or kitchen sink;
- Around windows that leak;
- On a shower curtain;
- In a humidifier;
- Under a damp carpet;
- In an area with plumbing issues; and/or
- On a ceiling or roof, especially if a leak is present.
Toxic mold is actually somewhat of a misnomer. While some types of mold can produce toxins, the mold itself is not toxic. Two types of mold, stachybotrys chartarum and toxigenic aspergillus, may cause adverse reactions in individuals. These are the types of mold attorneys and mold remediation companies often refer to as toxic mold. Adverse reactions to these molds can lead to life threatening issues.
Stachybotrys chartarum is what most individuals are referring to when they say “black mold.” It has a dark green or black appearance. The mold produces spores which are released into the air as it feeds on organic material in the building or home, such as drywall or carpet. Symptoms associated with an adverse reaction can be:
- Chronic coughing and sneezing;
- Eye irritation;
- Irritation to the mucous membranes of the nose and throat;
- Chronic fatigue; and/or
- Persistent headaches.
How Do You Know If Mold is Making You Sick?
The signs and symptoms of mold exposure were discussed above, and can include others. Every individual will be affected differently by the presence of mold. Other symptoms, especially in cases of air conditioning mold, may include:
- Sinus issues;
- Breathing difficulties;
- Bronchitis and asthma attacks;
- Legionnaires Disease, which is a flu-like illness caused by bacteria that breeds in moldy areas; and/or
- Vasomotor rhinitis, or a sinus condition with symptoms similar to allergies.
Should an individual experience any of the symptoms related to mold exposure, they should seek medical care immediately. Additionally, they should save any documentation or diagnoses related to the mold exposure in case a lawsuit is necessary.
Federal, State, and Local Toxic Mold Laws
At this time, there are no federal mold laws that provide standards for residential buildings. However, federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the United States Department of Labor (DOL), and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provide standards and guidelines for schools, commercial buildings, and the workplace.
There are some states which have passed laws with regard to mold standards and guidelines, specifically referring to indoor air quality. California is one of those states, with the Toxic Mold Protection Act of 2001, it established mold remediation standards for contractors, owners, and landlords. The Act also requires landlords disclose suspected and/or known mold problems to current and prospective tenants.
In some court cases involving mold, mold has been considered a legal nuisance. In states where this is available, a tenant may sue a landlord under nuisance laws.
Who can Bring a Toxic Mold Lawsuit, and What Evidence is Necessary for a Claim?
In most cases, an individual who has been personally injured by exposure to toxic mold has legal standing. An individual with standing in a toxic mold case usually includes:
- Tenants, or individuals who lease their homes. These individuals are the most likely to experience toxic mold issues because they live in buildings that are older structures made with materials prone to mold. Poor building maintenance may also be a factor.
- Homeowners may encounter toxic mold issues due to poor construction with mold prone materials, even in newly constructed homes. Homeowners may be able to sue inspectors, homebuilders, real estate brokers, or anyone else who may have caused the mold issue or had a duty to disclose the mold issue;
- Employees, who may be able to request worker’s compensation if the exposure to toxic mold in the workplace lead to health problems or disabilities;
- Government agencies who may be able to sue contractors and/or inspectors for their employees’ toxic mold injuries; and
- Other parties such as parents of children who were injured because of toxic mold in their home, school, camp or other place, who can sue on the children’s behalf.
The success of a claim is depending on the quality and quantity of evidence. In order to succeed in a toxic mold claim, an individual must show:
- They were exposed to toxic mold;
- The exposure caused personal injuries or property damage;
- They were owed a duty or warn or prevent toxic mold growth and that duty was violated; and
- There are damages related to the toxic mold exposure.
The best ways to prove these elements are:
- Documentation of the toxic mold including its development, photographs and video if available, and any inspection reports;
- Medical evidence and diagnoses that link the mold exposure and health issues, including allergy test results, pulmonary test results, and/or chest X-rays;
- Records and/or disclosure statements that omitted the presence of water damage and/or mold; and/or
- Copies of any expenses an individual has incurred as a result of the mold exposure, including medical bills, lost wages, replacement of damaged goods and/or mold remediation.
What Other Parties May be Liable for Toxic Mold?
Landlords may be liable for toxic mold but there are other parties who may also be liable. These include:
- Previous owners who failed to make mold disclosures;
- Makers and suppliers of building materials infested with mold;
- Contractors when their work resulted in mold infestation; and/or
- Insurance companies for violating the “covenant of good faith and fair dealing.”
What Damages Can I Recover for Toxic Mold Injuries?
Damages can be recovered in toxic mold cases but they will vary based on the facts of the case. Generally, damages will depend on the extent of mold growth, the severity of the reaction to the mold, and the costs associated with medical treatment and/or repairing the property.
The most commonly recovered damages are compensatory damages. Damages can be recovered for losses, including:
- Repair costs;
- Medical bills; and/or
- Compensation for pain and suffering.
In some states, the prevailing party’s attorney’s fees will be paid by the other party.
Another type of damages that may be awarded are punitive damages. These damages may be awarded if a landlord, insurer, or homebuilder intentionally misled the injured party regarding the presence of mold. Punitive damages are intended to deter similar future behavior.
It may be difficult to recover damages for issues related to toxic mold. It may be difficult to prove injury because some doctors may not agree that a relationship exists between toxic mold and health conditions a patient may experience. Many insurance companies will not cover toxic mold issues. An attorney may be able to advise other specific language that may work around this issue.
It may also be difficult to prove causation in mold cases but a mold lawyer can help advise what documentation or facts will assist in a case. The tenant or homeowner may be blamed for poor housekeeping. Proving injury and causation may be difficult, but they are necessary. Some ways to bolster damage awards in these cases include damage to the property, harassment, retaliation, and/or constructive eviction.
Do I Need an Attorney for Help with a Toxic Mold Claim?
Toxic mold claims are complex and require a great deal of expertise. There are multiple areas of law that may be involved, including breach of contract claims and personal injury claims. A lawyer can review your case and determine what claims you have as well as represent you during any court proceedings.