Mold: Easy to Remediate, Tough to Compensate
The health consequences of mold exposure are relatively new in the world of public health, but an evolving body of medical research has demonstrated it to be a serious condition.
The signs of exposure
Mold typically develops as a result of persistent humidity that can arise from any number of causes; water intrusion, faulty construction (e.g. insufficient insulation) or poor soil conditions are chief among them. What can make mold exposure tricky to detect is that people suffering from mold exposure often believe they are suffering from sinus infections, asthma or other ailments that are the result of heredity, weather, or other health conditions.
There are certain telltale signs of mold exposure that should prompt you to investigate the possible existence of mold in your home. These include the following:
–A musty or damp odor in a basement or other room
–The unexplained onset of sinus congestion, wheezing, headaches or lack of energy
–The appearance of a black substance on walls
The Action Plan
If any of these “trigger mechanisms” arise, you should contact a specialist in mold assessment. You should preferably hire someone who has a background in microbiology and can distinguish between the numerous different types of mold. This is particularly important because certain species of mold (e.g. aspergilius) are more toxic than others.
A mold assessment first involves taking air and surface samples in the suspected areas, and then having them analyzed at a laboratory. If the lab results confirm the existence of toxic mold, the specialist will typically recommend remediation measures. These generally include removal of wall board, disinfection of personal belongings and general dehumidification of the area. This work is done by mold remediation firms. It is best to use a firm that does only this work, as opposed to so-called “disaster recovery specialists” that clean properties following fires or floods.
Mold exposure is most appropriately addressed and treated by “environmental physicians”, many of whom are associated with medical schools or academic medical centers. Treatment often ranges from allergy shots to oral medication, Symptoms can resolve quickly or may linger for several years. It is important to seek medical attention immediately upon any suspicion that you have been exposed to mold.
Who Can You Hold Responsible for Mold Exposure?
1. Your Own Insurance Company
After a barrage of mold claims in the 1990s, the insurance industry drastically altered both the scope, and amount, of coverage for mold under homeowners policies. Current homeowners policies typically limit coverage to $10,000 and carve out all sorts of exclusions from coverage. Because of the relatively small amount of coverage and the expense of retaining an attorney to fight insurers on coverage, the industry has been relatively successful in dissuading homeowners from filing lawsuits over coverage for mold damage. However, coverage is often available, though it can require the assistance of an attorney who understands how such policies are written and interpreted.
It is worth the modest expenditure to have an attorney review your homeowners policy to determine whether there is coverage. In Massachusetts, an insurance cannot refuse to cover a loss under a homeowners policy where the policy makes “reasonably clear” that the insurer is on the hook to provide coverage; if an insurer is found to have engaged in that practice, a judge is required by law to order it to pay the insured homeowners their reasonable attorney’s fees.
2. A Builder
Mold exposure can often result from improper construction. Most builders in Massachusetts provide a “limited warranty” on newly constructed homes; these warranties are typically effective for one year and usually cover mold-related defects. Even if mold is discovered following the expiration of this one-year period, it may still be possible to sue and recover from the builder under a theory known as “implied warranty of habitability”.
3. Governmental Entity
In some instances a person is exposed to mold as a result of stormwater or sewage backup caused by the failure of a city, town or other governmental entity to properly maintain its sewer or storm drain system. I recently settled such a claim against a municipality, in which one of the plaintiffs suffered mold exposure (the mold was identified through an assessment by a microbiologist) as a result of a backup of a sewage through the drains in her basement.