Mold is found just about anywhere there is moisture, a lack of ventilation, and the right temperature. Fruit that isn’t eaten in time often develops nasty (but harmless) mold as it expires, for instance. But some molds can cause serious health problems once they get a foothold into your home or workplace, particularly that which is known as “black mold.” The presence of toxic mold often suggests an underlying construction defect or some other problem caused by a third party, and thus often leads to litigation.
Toxic mold lawsuits are particularly complicated, as they often involve multiple causes of action, can implicate a wide range of potential defendants, and require specific medical and scientific expertise. Most toxic mold lawsuits against building owners and landlords are settled before trial, but those filed against homeowner’s insurance providers typically are resolved at trial.
Toxic Mold Lawsuits: Overview
Toxic mold has been known to cause a number of severe injuries and health conditions, including respiratory problems, flu-like symptoms, headaches, and skin irritation. A few different types of mold have been labeled toxic, most notably Stachybotrys atra. Removal of mold typically requires the destruction of all infected materials, such as sheet rock, floorboards, and furniture.
While the conditions that allow mold to grow and thrive are well-known, it’s not so easy determining the proximate cause of toxic mold in a building. For instance, it could be the result of construction defects, faulty materials, poor architectural design, or the previous owner’s failure to disclose known problems. Homeowners insurance companies sometimes are targeted with breach of contract suits for failing to cover toxic mold claims. If it’s a rental, the landlord may be held liable if it’s determined they knew or should have known about the problem.
The most common theories of liability for toxic mold injuries include negligence, breach of warranty, and failure to disclose. Damages often include medical costs, related losses (such as time off work to recover from injury), and the cost of cleanup and structural restoration.
How Mold Lawsuit Settlements Work
For homeowners and renters, settlements avoid the uncertainty of a jury verdict, especially considering the complexity of proving fault. Settlements also sidestep the considerable legal costs involved in such cases, such as medical experts and lab testing. Defendant owners and landlords, likewise, typically prefer the finality of settlements and the lack of negative media publicity that would result from a verdict.
When arriving at a dollar value for total damages, plaintiff’s attorneys typically review verdicts and settlements reached in similar toxic mold cases. However, attorneys tend to “discount” this total amount with respect to its likelihood of succeeding at trial. So if the plaintiff has a fairly strong case and proof of toxic mold infestation, but with a sliver of doubt as to the causation of the illnesses, the base settlement amount (calculated as if there were a 100 percent chance of succeeding at trial) may be discounted by 30 percent or so.
Plaintiff’s attorneys will then write a “demand letter” for settlement to the defense counsel, who will then discuss the proposed settlement with the defendant’s liability insurance carrier. In addition to the demand letter, the plaintiff’s counsel will include a settlement brochure detailing its claims and urging the defendant to settle the case. Finally, legal counsel for the two parties will negotiate until they reach a satisfactory compromise settlement.
Mold Lawsuit Settlements: Examples
Settlement amounts for toxic mold claims vary quite a bit and depend on the seriousness of injuries, the amount of property damage sustained, and other factors. The mold lawsuit settlement examples below will give you a general idea of what to expect:
- Broward County Courthouse, Florida (2013) — Former Florida prosecutor Stefanie Krathen Ginnis, who claimed that mold exposure at the Broward County Courthouse caused severe sinus problems, received a $166,500 settlement from the county (19 current and former county employees have filed suit for mold-related illnesses).
- Baxter Healthcare Corp. North Cove Plant, North Carolina (2017) — Baxter International agreed to a $2.158 million civil settlement (in addition to criminal penalties of roughly $16 million) for ignoring an employee’s warning that mold was found in air filters in a room where sterile intravenous solutions are manufactured. No injuries related to the mold were reported
- Crenshaw Lumber Co., California (2005) — The parents of Kellen Gorman received a $13 million settlement from Crenshaw Lumber Co., for failing to properly store lumber used in the plaintiff’s home. The wooden studs were blamed for spreading toxic mold to the Gorman’s home and causing serious brain damage to their child (who will need 24-hour care indefinitely).