The health hazards posed by certain types of mold have attracted media attention and given rise to many lawsuits. In determining whether you should bring a claim based on harm caused by mold, you may want to know more about mold and its risks. In general, most forms of mold do not cause significant harm when they are present in moderate amounts. It also would be nearly impossible to completely eliminate mold from a particular building. However, when there is a substantial amount of mold, you may start experiencing symptoms.
Where Mold Develops
High concentrations of mold are often found in places that have suffered a flood or water leak or in rooms that are not well-ventilated.
Mold tends to develop in areas that are warm and humid, although its spores can survive in other types of environments. It is often found indoors in areas near bathrooms and basements, which may be less ventilated. If your home has suffered from leaks or flooding, or if you keep plants inside, you should be especially alert to the potential for mold. Thus, keeping your home dry and well-ventilated should be a priority. You may also find mold in certain building products, such as insulation material or wood products, as well as in fabrics and paper products, such as carpets or wallpaper.
Mold is airborne and invisible, so it can travel undetected through heating, air conditioning, and ventilation systems. You may bring it into your home on your clothes, or you may find that it develops after you leave windows or doors open. People usually do not notice it until it has accumulated in a relatively large concentration, at which point they can detect it by sight or smell. (It has a musty smell and leaves spots.)
Harmful Types of Mold
While any type of mold can cause harm if it exists in a sufficiently high concentration, there also are certain types of mold that are known to be toxigenic. This means that they release molecular toxins through their spores, which can cause harm from exposure in less substantial quantities than other forms of mold. Toxigenic types of mold are relatively rare, but one example is stachybotrys chartarum. This is often known as “black mold” and tends to arise in buildings that have suffered from flooding. Not all types of this mold are toxigenic, although those that are may cause serious harm.
Another example of toxigenic mold is aspergillis, which is somewhat less hazardous but more common. It can be found in a wider range of environments than black mold. Again, not all types of aspergillis are toxigenic.
What to Do When You Find Mold
If you find that mold has developed in significant quantities on your property, you should take prompt action to address the issue, even if the mold may not be toxigenic. Mold remediation may involve cleaning hard surfaces in a way that prevents the risk of spores spreading. If they spread, the mold probably will return. For surfaces that have absorbed the mold, remediation may involve replacing those materials. A property owner may need to undertake substantial renovations if mold has infested walls and structural elements. Professional assistance may be required to keep spores under control and protect a building’s ventilation system, through which spores can spread rapidly.
Legal Recourse After a Mold Infestation
This depends on whether you own, rent, or work at the property. If you own it, your first place to turn should be your homeowners' insurance policy. You should review the terms of the policy to see whether mold is specifically covered or excluded. (If your insurer fails to provide coverage as required under the policy or creates unreasonable delays, you may have a separate bad-faith insurance claim as well.) If you had your home built on a vacant property, and the mold resulted from poor design by an architect or engineer, that party may be liable. Similarly, if poor construction materials caused a mold infestation, you may be able to sue a contractor, builder, or supplier. If you bought a home that was built by someone else, you may be able to sue the previous owner and their real estate agent for failing to disclose the mold infestation. You also may be able to sue the property inspector for failing to notice and inform you of the mold. If you bought a home in a condominium, you might have a claim against the condominium association.
If you are renting your home, the landlord should be responsible for dealing with a mold infestation and other major problems under the implied warranty of habitability. This automatically applies in most states, regardless of any language to the contrary in your lease or rental agreement.
If you encounter mold in your workplace, you likely can file a workers' compensation claim for benefits. This avoids the issue of determining who was at fault for the mold, since workers' compensation benefits are provided regardless of fault. In some cases, you may be able to file a claim against your employer if workers' compensation benefits prove insufficient. You should consult an attorney to find out whether this may be an option in your case.