Mold is a type of fungus. While many lawyers and mold remediation companies frequently talk about “toxic mold,” the mold itself isn’t poisonous or harmful. Instead, mold can be toxigenic. Some molds, such a stachybotrys chartarum and toxigenic aspergillus, produce mycotoxins that cause adverse reactions in some people.
Mold grows when its spores are exposed to excessive moisture. Many homes and buildings contain mold — especially after a pipe leaks, a roof fails, or a basement floods. And, many building products contain cellulose and other materials that contain nutrients that encourage mold.
What are the Symptoms of Toxic Mold?
The mycotoxins in toxic mold can cause upper respiratory illness. While most healthy adults will not suffer significant symptoms after a mold exposure, others experience life-threatening problems. Depending on your circumstances, you might notice:
- Coughing and wheezing;
- Eye and skin irritation; and/or
- Sneezing, runny nose, and post-nasal drip.
More severe conditions, such as hypersensitivity pneumonitis and opportunistic fungal infections sometimes occur—especially in people with chronic lung disease or immune deficiencies. Some doctors also believe that mold exposure during childhood can cause or aggravate asthma.
Additionally, mold causes property damage. In order to properly remediate or remove toxic mold, you must:
- Identify the source of the moisture and repair it;
- Thoroughly clean all the hard, non-porous surfaces;
- Remove and dispose of all porous, affected materials (including carpet, drywall, and ceiling tiles); and
- Implement mold prevention systems (such as improved ventilation and dehumidifiers).
What Evidence Do I Need in Order to Succeed in a Toxic Mold Claim?
Your claim’s strength depends on the quality and quantity of your evidence. You must show that:
- You were exposed to toxic mold;
- The exposure caused personal injuries or property damage;
- Someone owed you a duty to warn or prevent the mold growth and violated this duty; and
- You have damages related to the mold exposure.
You and your personal injury lawyer should compile the following documents and information before filing a toxic mold lawsuit:
- Documentation of the mold and its development, including photographs, videos, and inspection reports;
- Medical evidence linking your health problems to mold exposure, such as allergy testing, pulmonary function tests, and chest x-rays;
- Any disclosure statements or other records that failed to disclose the presence of water damage or mold; and
- Copies of your expenses related to the mold exposure, including medical bills, lost wages, replacement costs of damaged goods, and mold remediation costs.
Who Can Bring a Toxic Mold Lawsuit?
In order to file a lawsuit, you must have legal standing. You typically have standing if you were personally injured by the mold exposure. In a toxic mold case, you might have standing if you are a tenant, homeowner, parent, employee, or government entity.
- Tenants and Toxic Mold:
- The most common group of individuals bringing toxic mold suits are those who lease their homes.
- This group suffers the highest percentage of health problems related to toxic mold primarily because the buildings they live in are typically older, built with materials prone to deterioration and poorly constructed and maintained.
- Tenants can bring suits against landlords, building managers, or ownership companies for health problems caused by toxic mold.
- Homeowners and Toxic Mold:
- Homeowners are the second largest group of people bringing toxic mold suits. Toxic mold problems in homes are usually the result of poor construction or the failure of a toxic mold inspector to identify a toxic mold problem.
- Homeowners can bring suits against the builders of their homes, inspectors, real estate brokers or anyone else who may have caused or had a duty to disclose toxic mold problems.
- Parents and Toxic Mold:
- Parents of children injured by toxic mold can sue on their behalf. Parents can sue schools, camps or any other place that causes their children to be exposed to toxic mold.
- Employees and Toxic Mold:
- Employees can request workers’ compensation if toxic mold exposure at your workplace causes health problems and disability.
- Governments and Toxic Mold:
- Government agencies can also bring lawsuits against contractors or inspectors for government employees’ toxic mold injuries.
What Kind of Damages Can I Recover for Toxic Mold Injuries?
Some class action toxic mold suits have resulted in awards exceeding $15 million. However, each lawsuit may be different depending on the circumstances. Your damages will depend on a series of factors, including the extent of the mold growth, the severity of your response to the mold, and the costs related to treating your conditions and repairing your property. You might recover:
- Compensatory Damages: A person injured by toxic mold can recover damages for your both your economic and non-economic losses. This might include your medical bills, repair costs, and compensation for pain and suffering.
- Liquidated Damages: Damage awards that are set out in the contract, such as one between a homeowner and construction company.
- Attorney's fees: Most states force the losing party to pay the other side's attorney's fees when they win a toxic mold case. Given the complex nature and large expenses of toxic mold cases, many state legislatures have determined that awarding attorney's fees is proper if you win your case.
- Punitive Damages: If an insurer, homebuilder, or landlord knowingly or fraudulently acted to hide, give false information about, or exposed a party to toxic mold, punitive damages can be awarded.
Obstacles to Recovery in a Toxic Mold Claim
If you sue for injuries from toxic mold, you may encounter the following issues:
- Proving Injury: Doctors disagree about the relationship between “toxic mold” and some health conditions. Additionally, many insurance companies don’t cover toxic mold issues, although some attorneys label toxic mold as "water intrusion" or "biological contamination" as a way around this issue.
- Proving Causation: It's often difficult to discover whether exposure to toxic mold was the fault of your landlord, the contractor who built your home, or the result of your own negligence. Contractors or landlords who are sued for toxic mold often defend themselves by blaming the plaintiff’s housekeeping.
- Recovering Damages: Since proving injury is difficult, recovering a significant amount of money for the injuries can be just as difficult. Damage to property, harassment, retaliation, and constructive eviction are common ways of bolstering damage awards in a toxic mold case.
Because toxic mold cases involve a great deal of nuance and technical expertise, you should always work with an experienced personal injury lawyer. A lawyer will help you compile your evidence and might strengthen your claim with expert testimony.
How Long Will a Toxic Mold Lawsuit Take to Resolve?
You should anticipate that legal claim for toxic mold damage and injury should take anywhere from one year to several years, depending on the severity of the claim. Toxic mold cases typically require expert opinions and inspections, resulting in a lengthy discovery process and a complex trial.
What Types of Lawyers Handle Toxic Mold Cases?
Finding a competent lawyer who will take on a toxic mold case is not always easy. Toxic mold law is still a relatively new area of law. And, toxic mold claims sometimes result in multiple lawsuits from a single mold exposure. You should look for an attorney with experience in:
- Breach of contract disputes;
- Construction defect cases;
- Homeowner’s insurance claims;
- Personal injury claims; and
- Toxic torts.
Some lawyers will take on a toxic mold case based on a contingency fee basis. This means that the amount of attorney fees that you will need to pay will depend on the outcome of the trial.
Should I Consult an Attorney about Toxic Mold Exposure?
If you believe you have been exposed to toxic mold you should consult a personal injury lawyer with experience dealing with toxic mold issues. An attorney can help you deal with insurance companies, advise you of your rights and potential remedies, and take your case to trial if necessary.
It’s always in your best interest to retain a lawyer as soon as you suspect that you discover your toxic mold claim. If you wait too long, you might miss your statute of limitations and lose your right to compensation.