By Keith Turner
In 2001, a Texas jury awarded a family $32 million in a mold insurance case. (Ballard vs. Farmers Insurance.) Mold became gold and the plaintiff’s bar did very well until the insurance industry responded by excluding coverage for mold claims under most homeowner’s policies and the defense bar succeeded in excluding evidence for personal injuries suffered because of mold exposure. (See, e.g., Geffcken v. D’Andrea (2006) 137 Cal.App.4th 1298; Cornell v. 360 West 51st Street Realty, LLC, 22 N.Y.3d 762 (2014).)
From 2001 to 2007, I represented a number of major insurers in mold cases. I started the Turner Law Firm in 2007 in large part to handle mold cases against insurers, landlords, property sellers and contractors. I am proud of my record of results in mold cases.
The law and rules have greatly changed since 2001. Do not rely on old internet information in evaluating your mold case. But a good mold case still has value.
Mold law bullet points:
A mold exclusion may not preclude coverage.
Insurance policies vary across different insurance carriers. Mold damages may be covered if caused by a covered peril. An insured may want to consult with an attorney in tendering an insurance claim, which should be made as soon as possible.
Clean up water damage to avoid mold:
- Never ignore signs of a water related damages problem, such as condensation, ceiling stains, or mold growth. Immediately attempt to find and stop water leaks at their source.
- Water leaks can cause moisture, which can cause mold to develop.
- Mold can cause health problems, which can range from runny noses, coughs, nosebleeds, congestion, and sinusitis to more serious upper respiratory ailments such as asthma or bronchitis. (For more information, see California Dept. of Public Health’s website.)
Retain a qualified expert
There are lots so-called mold experts listed in the Yellow Pages. Make sure your consultant is actually qualified, such as many Certified Industrial Hygienists and Environmental and Occupational Health experts.
Identifying the type of mold is important, but so is determining the cause of the mold, e.g., roof leak; concealed plumbing line failure; neighbor’s tree roots; etc. Sometimes a forensic contractor or architect is needed to work with the mold expert to determine the cause of each mold condition.
Remediate the mold.
but first, notify the insurer?
- On the one hand, insurance policies require policyholders to notify the insurer of a potentially covered loss as soon as possible, but on the other hand, some insurers penalize insured for making mold related claims, even if they are not covered. Thus, it is often advisable to consult with an insurance professional, such as an agent or attorney in deciding whether to make a mold related claim.
(See D. Schwarcz, Reevaluating Standardized Insurance Policies, 78 University of Chicago Law Review 1263 (2011); http://personalinsure.about.com/od/preventio1/a/aa052007a.htm)
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