Source: http://www.businesswire.com, June 2, 2005
Mold exposure has jumped to the forefront of significant personal injury claims with a recent $925,000 award in Wayne County Circuit Court to an apartment resident. The verdict, the highest ever in Michigan for personal injury damages resulting from mold exposure, could ultimately force a new standard of liability on property owners and landlords.
The apartment resident, Esmeralda Mahaffy, developed permanent, severe asthma from exposure to high levels of toxic mold after her apartment was negligently repaired following a flood from a toilet in the apartment above her unit in 2001. The incident occurred after years of ignored complaints of water leakage and persistent mold on the walls and ceilings. The verdict followed a seven-day jury trial in April before Wayne County Circuit Court Judge John H. Gillis Jr.
“This is the largest single personal injury Michigan verdict since mold claims began being pursued in Michigan in 1999, a significant legal development because many defendants and their lawyers do not take injuries from mold seriously,” said Jennifer Grieco of Sommers Schwartz, Mahaffy’s attorney. “The jury, however, took the injury seriously, despite the defendant’s arguments that mold is the same as mildew and found ‘everywhere’, and appreciated the effect the severe asthma condition Ms. Mahaffy developed would have on her life.”
The jury found that the apartment management of Maple Creek apartments in Woodhaven, Mich., failed to follow industry guidelines in cleaning up the damp, moldy conditions. As a result, Mahaffy was hospitalized three times for severe asthma attacks, one of which nearly killed her when she stopped breathing. She remains on medication and has dramatically altered her lifestyle to guard against future asthma attacks.
The case may set a liability precedent for property managers and landlords that negligently maintain their commercial residential properties and fail to follow established industry guidelines for the clean up of water intrusion and mold damage.
“The verdict supports the validity of mold litigation actions, certainly as seen through the eyes of increasingly conservative jurors,” Grieco said.
The jury, speaking through its verdict, told the manager of the apartment complex that it should have done more than send in a handy-man to rip out drywall when faced with signs of visible mold. The published guidelines are easily available on the Internet but this apartment manager never bothered to investigate the appropriate protocol, neglecting his duties to the paying tenant to provide a safe and habitable living space.
Grieco is an expert in the accelerating field of mold litigation and has handled numerous cases that resulted in large settlements and jury verdicts for homeowners against builders, home inspectors, condominium and apartment management companies and insurance companies. Her practice includes construction defects, toxic torts, product liability, personal injury and medical malpractice. Grieco was named one of “Michigan’s Emerging Young Lawyers” in 2004 by Michigan Lawyers Weekly.
Southfield-based Sommers Schwartz is one of Michigan’s largest law firms.