In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, who can forget the images of homes that sat underwater for weeks and became covered in a coating of toxic black mold? A backlog of insurance claims meant that many homeowners were unable to repair the damage for weeks or even months. Sadly, many of the homes in the most devastated areas remain abandoned. What many homeowners are unaware of, however, is that it does not take a devastating storm to bring toxic mold into the home. In many cases mold is hidden from view, often in the substrate or walls of the home. Just 50% humidity may be enough to encourage the growth of toxic mold.
Cases of mold in the home have been on an upswing in the past several years. Although the causes are not always clear, it is believed that a combination of airtight construction and poor workmanship may be to blame. If mold is suspected, it is important to have the home tested to determine the type and origin of the mold.
The Physical Effects
Although all molds have the potential to cause allergic reactions, some are known to be particularly dangerous. The most toxic mold that is common in homes is Stachybotrys atra. This is the well-known “black mold,” although other types may appear black in color as well.
Mold in the home may cause allergies, respiratory problems, headaches, and other cold and flu-like symptoms. Toxic molds have been linked to more serious conditions, including chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, interstitial lung disease and certain types of cancer. As with many other conditions, mold exposure carries a greater risk for the elderly, children, and those with compromised immune systems or existing breathing problems.
Liability may be imposed on contractors and builders, architects and engineers, material suppliers and manufacturers, or the previous homeowner. In order to determine who is at fault, it will be necessary to reconstruct what happened.
Three major legal theories are involved in toxic mold claims. Negligence is the most common. If the builder failed to adequately seal the home against moisture, or the architect failed to consider moisture removal in the building design, negligence could be the basis for liability.
Breach of warranty is another basis for liability. If the toxic mold problem developed during the home’s warranty period and was not ameliorated by the builder, there may be a breach of warranty claim.
The third legal theory is failure to disclose. A homeowner is required to disclose to a buyer anything that may affect the value of the property. If the former owner knew of the mold problem and did not warn the buyer, there may be a case for failure to disclose.
Homeowners are often entitled to bring a claim for medical expenses and the cost of repairing or rebuilding the home. The exact monetary amount will vary depending on the severity of illness and the actual costs involved in mold removal.