Toxic mold, also known as "black mold," is the basis for numerous personal injury and property damage lawsuits against building contractors, architects, homeowners and employers.
Causes of Toxic Mold
Mold grows best in moist areas with little ventilation. Mold is commonly found between walls, on kitchen or shower tiles, under wallpaper and inside carpets. "Toxic" mold is mold that produces mycotoxins—metabolic compounds that are toxic when ingested by humans or animals. Not all mold produces mycotoxins. Rather, mycotoxins are released when mold growing on specific materials is exposed to certain combinations of moisture and temperature.
Toxic Mold-Related Illnesses
Each individual reacts differently to mycotoxins, depending on the degree of exposure and the strength of the individual's immune system. Prolonged contact with mycotoxins may result in allergic reactions or in fungal infections of the sinuses, digestive tract, lungs and skin. Symptoms of toxic mold-related illnesses include fatigue, respiratory problems, headaches, severe allergies, nasal and sinus congestion, sore throat, increased asthma symptoms and skin irritation. In rare cases, toxic mold exposure may lead to brain damage, damage to the immune system, bleeding in the lungs, and death.
The costs associated with treating toxic mold-related illnesses or repairing mold-infested property are often high. Victims of toxic mold exposure in the home or workplace may sue to recover for personal injuries and/or property damage. Victims may bring suit under several theories of liability:
- Failure to disclose. Property owners are typically required to disclose to potential buyers all known defects in the property. If a previous owner had knowledge of a mold problem, or a condition that was likely to lead to mold, the owner may be liable for failing to share that information with the buyer.
- Negligence. An individual may sue a contractor, subcontractor, architect or material supplier for negligent construction. A party acts negligently if he or she fails to use reasonable care in ensuring that the property is free from leaks and plumbing problems that may cause future mold growth.
- Breach of warranty. Many states require builders and architects to guarantee their work for a set period of time. If a property suffers from water damage or mold infestation before this period has expired, the builder or architect may be held liable for any damage incurred.
- Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA). OSHA requires employers to provide employees with a workplace free from recognized hazards that are likely to cause death or serious harm. If an employer fails to repair or warn its employees of a known toxic mold problem, employees may have a valid claim under OSHA.
Preventing Toxic Mold Growth
Toxic mold growth can be prevented by reducing overall mold growth in living and working environments. Mold is controlled by reducing the degree of moisture in a building. The following measures may be taken to reduce mold growth:
- Fix leaks and plumbing problems immediately.
- Clean mold off hard surfaces, such as bathroom tiles.
- Clean and dry damp ceiling or floor boards completely before replacing.
- Replace water-damaged carpet immediately.
- Install air conditioners and de-humidifiers.
- Increase ventilation.