I am a columnist for the Warner Center News (Woodland Hills, California); my column is entitled "Legal News You Can Use". Here is my recent column on toxic mold, which summarizes the present state of the toxic mold legal landscape:
What is “toxic” mold?
Mold is a naturally-occurring fungus which serves the necessary function of digesting dead wood, leaves and other bio-refuse. In your house or business, however, you of course don’t want that function occurring on yourwood.
In addition to feeding on things like wood, mold needs water to survive. That’s why wet or damp environments inside your home or business are natural places for mold to form.
“Toxic” mold is so called because certain types of the fungus produce chemicals knows as mycotoxins. These toxins are thought by some to produce acute reactions in susceptible people, ranging, among other things, from allergies, rashes, headaches and fatigue to dizziness and inability to concentrate. However, regarding such reactions, it is generally agreed that when a person is removed from the source of the problem (the mold), the problem goes away.
The real controversy is whether toxic mold can produce “chronic” reactions-that is, reactions that don’t go away even when the person is removed from the mold exposure. Plaintiffs’ lawyers and their experts contend that toxic mold can cause asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and even cancer, among many other terrible things.
What does science say about “toxic” mold exposure?
There is significant doubt, however, regarding whether these chronic conditions are in fact mold-driven. For example, the Centers for Disease Control states on its website that, with the possible exception of asthma, a cause-and-effect relationship between mold exposure and chronic illness has yet to be proven. Moreover, neither the federal nor State government has issued any “Permissible Exposure Limits” regarding toxic mold. In 2001, California enacted the Toxic Mold Protection Act, which required that a study be done to see if such limits could be formulated. Four years later, however, the study group reported that there simply was insufficient scientific consensus to come up with exposure limits.
How have the Courts treated toxic-mold claimants?
Nonetheless, this doubt has not stopped Plaintffs’ lawyers, in some cases successfully, from trying to convince Courts and juries that their clients’ medical problems are linked to their mold exposure. There may be as many as 10,000 toxic-mold cases now pending nationwide in the Courts; the results have ranged all the way from a $32 million verdict in Texas to defense rulings in New York and other States.
If there is any unifying theme in the cases, it is that juries seem to be sympathetic to claimants where the injury appears severe and the defendant landlord, contractor, etcetera either acted indifferently to the claimant’s pleas and/or performed remedial work in a negligent fashion. With the science so much in doubt, juries may be making up for such doubt by penalizing the defendant who does not show proper cocnern. Therefore, if you’re on the receiving end of a mold claim, responding quickly, decisively and with concern may go a long way to limit your liability in any subsequent litigation.