Toxic mold litigation is an area of particular interest to me. Several years ago an Oregon family approached me in the case that became known as Haynes v. Adair Homes, Inc. Working with Paul and Renee Haynes, and their two small children, I was able to secure the first personal injury toxic mold verdict in the Northwest in March, 2005. This case was one of the first such verdicts in the nation, and it has became a rallying point for victims of shoddy residential construction.
About Haynes v. Adair Homes, Inc.
The Haynes family lived in their new home less than five months when they discovered the toxic mold in their walls, which was causing the family serious health problems. The case, which involved arbitration, construction defect, the medical impact of toxic mold and much more, went before a Clackamas County jury and the Haynes family, including their young boys, were awarded nearly a half million dollars as well as costs and fees. The case received national attention.
Articles in the press about Haynes v. Adair Homes can be viewed here:
A description and analysis of Haynes v. Adair Homes from a legal perspective is contained in this chapter from the forthcoming book, Toxic Mold Litigation, Second Edition.
This case convinced me to build a special focus in my practice on toxic mold litigation. The problem is insidious, hidden and far from uncommon, and families living with toxic mold need experienced legal representation to stand against an industry that is well-funded and slow to respond to individual complaints.
About Toxic Mold
A mold is a fungus that grows mostly on organic materials in the presence of moisture. The carbohydrates found in materials like wood or drywall (sheet rock), and in dust, provide the food needed for mold growth. When mold colonies are present in homes, apartments or other buildings, it is often due to defective construction methods or materials that allow water to penetrate and become trapped in walls or other areas where there is poor air circulation. Mold thrives in these conditions.
Common Toxic Molds
There are many thousands of species of molds but not all molds are toxic. The types of mold that commonly cause illness in humans include:
- Aspergillus fumigatus. Can cause severe allergic reactions.
- Aspergillus flavus. Produces aflatoxin, a highly potent carcinogen.
- Aspergillus niger. Can infect the lung, creating a “fungal ball.”
- Stachybotrys chartarum (atra). The so-called “black mold,” which can suppress the immune system and cause allergic reactions.
- Cladosporium spp. May cause skin and respiratory problems.
- Fusarium spp. Implicated in eye, skin and nail infections. Severe cases may involve hemorrhagic syndrome.
- Penicillium spp. Infection with this group of molds can attack the skin, ears, endocardium, pericardium and urinary tract.
Damage from toxic molds can result from exposure to mycotoxins such as aflatoxin, ochratoxin and tricothecine. Mycotoxins are organic compounds, which emanate from toxic molds and produce unfavorable responses in the human body. Some are known carcinogens. Others may suppress the immune system or provoke allergic reactions. Airborne mycotoxins may carry an unpleasant odor or may be completely odorless, making them difficult to detect.
Symptoms of Mold-Caused Illnesses
The symptoms commonly associated with allergies – sneezing, headaches, watery red eyes, breathing problems – are commonly caused by exposure to mold spores and mycotoxins. Other symptoms of acute or chronic exposure may include:
- Fever and flu-like symptoms
- Muscle aches, muscle fatigue
- Respiratory distress
- Difficulty swallowing
- Wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, burning in the lungs
- Urinary tract problems, bladder or kidney pain
- Pain in the liver or spleen
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Memory loss
- Vision problems
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Yellowing of the nails
- Balance problems, ringing in the ears
- Neurological symptoms
- Nose bleeds
- Easy bruising or scarring
- Joint stiffness or pain
- Neck boils
- Chronic fatigue
These symptoms, when present, require expert evaluation to determine the cause.
Where Mold Occurs
Mold thrives in dark places where the humidity is high, air circulation is poor and there is carbohydrate food. For example:
- Basements and crawl spaces
- Inside cabinets
- Inside walls and behind baseboards
- In any area that has been subject to water damage, which may occur during construction or as the result of leaks from roofing, pipes or flooding
- Under carpet that has been wet
- Above the ceiling, especially where there have been leaks
- Under and behind sinks
- Behind wallpaper
- Inside fiberglass insulation
- Inside HVAC ducts, especially those with in-duct humidifiers
- Inside evaporative coolers (swamp coolers)
- In cooling coils, condensate drains and drip pans of refrigerators and air conditioners
- In rooms, like bathrooms, that are subject to high humidity and may have poor air circulation
What To Do
If you see mold in your home, or experience the symptoms of mold exposure, you may require expert assistance. Look for mold inspectors in your area to help you identify the type and location of the mold and determine how to treat it. Consult a physician for treatment of symptoms and underlying illness.
If you believe the mold in your home is the result of shoddy construction, contact a toxic mold lawyer. An attorney who specializes in this area will be able to demonstrate experience in toxic mold litigation and will have contacts with physicians, scientists and others who understand toxic mold and can provide assistance and expert testimony if your case goes to trial.
For a more complete discussion, read "The Mold Controversy."
Consulting and Writing
A growing part of my practice since Haynes v. Adair Homes involves consulting on toxic mold cases around the country, and especially in the Northwest. I have contributed articles to the HADD Web site (Homeowners Against Deficient Dwellings), and I have been invited to write chapters on Washington and Oregon mold litigation for Toxic Mold Litigation, Second Edition. The book will soon be available through the Lawyers and Judges Publishing Company.
Look for the book here.
Toxic Mold Resources
If you find yourself in the middle of a situation involving toxic mold in the home, whether you are a plaintiff or plaintiff's attorney, you face a steep learning curve. The following resources can help you get started:
Articles by Kelly Vance
(Adobe Reader is required to read some of these documents. A free version of Adobe Reader is available here.)
The Mold Controversy
- The Mold Controversy (PDF version)
- The Mold Controversy (Web version in HTML)
Mold has been understood to be dangerous and even deadly for many centuries. It is even mentioned in Leviticus, the third book of the Bible. So why is it controversial?
Oregon Mold Litigation
- Oregon Mold Litigation (PDF version)
- Oregon Mold Litigation (Web Version in HTML)
This article, which includes an extended description and analysis of Haynes v. Adair Homes, is a chapter excerpted from Toxic Mold Litigation, Second Edition, published by the Lawyers and Judges Publishing Company.
Washington Mold Litigation
- Washington Mold Litigation (PDF version)
- Washington Mold Litigation (Web Version in HTML)
This article is a chapter excerpted from Toxic Mold Litigation, Second Edition, published by the Lawyers and Judges Publishing Company.
Links to other Web sites:
(When you visit these sites you will be leaving the Kelly Vance Law Web site. The links are provided as a courtesy. Kelly Vance Law does not vouch for any information you may find there.)
- Environmental Protection Agency
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's toxic mold pages provide a good deal of helpful information.
- Homeowners Against Deficient Dwellings
HADD, which describes itself as a "Consumer protection group for homeowners and home buyers," offers extensive information about mold, toxic mold a toxic mold law.
- Mold Help
MoldHelp.Org is a Web portal to information about toxic mold, toxic mold law and mold-related services.