Controlling mold-related lawsuits21 Nov, 2008 By: Emily Hanna Hotel and Motel Management
Noble Pine Products Co. In the late 1990s, an onslaught of two sorts occurred: Public awareness of the health risk of mold in buildings rose, as did the number of corresponding lawsuits. Fortunately, attorneys involved with mold-related cases suspect the amount of litigation is now dwindling.
“As far as civil litigation is concerned, trial lawyers have not found mold claims to be easily won or very profitable,” said Daniel Gerber, an attorney who specializes in toxic tort, commercial litigation, product liability and governmental affairs as a partner with Rumberger, Kirk and Caldwell in Orlando.
Cases of toxicity through mold inhalation do not hold much weight among health professionals because such high levels are nearly impossible in most settings, said Arthur Cook, an attorney with Hill, Farrer & Burrill in Los Angeles.
However, Cook, who specializes in toxic torts, hazardous waste, construction disputes, unfair competition and commercial transactions, differentiated between allergic, infectious and toxic cases because allergy-related cases still remain prevalent. Only atopic individuals would have allergic reactions to mold exposure, while infectious reactions are found only in those who are immune-compromised. And ingestion of mold is the only cause for a toxic effect to be seen, he said.
Because mold is an allergen, guests may experience reactions to some molds that are unfamiliar. For this reason, civil lawsuits are the biggest concern for hotel and motel operators because guests can make claims based on an accusation that the hotel triggered severe allergies, Gerber said.
Such cases can be won when hotels are found liable for negligence, such as a failure to report excessive moisture, improper repairs that either fail to resolve a problem or further it, or repairs that scatter mold spores, according to Cook. To prevent such problems, keep an eye (and nose) out for extensive moisture damage and the sight or scent of mold.
Mold: Just the facts
Short of serving an old loaf of bread at the breakfast bar, guestrooms and other public areas in hotels are the most worrisome source of mold for hoteliers.
In order for mold to grow, it needs spores, moisture, oxygen and nutrients from any organic, carbon-based material, according to Arthur Cook, an attorney with Los Angeles-based law firm Hill, Farrer & Burrill. The spores exist everywhere, while nutrients can include wood, wallpaper, vinyl siding, carpet and much more. For moisture, common causes are inadequate ventilation, defective or damaged moisture barriers, roof leaks, leaking plumbing or faulty grades, Cook said.
Although there are no official standards against mold contamination in buildings, mold problems are addressed during the construction phase through building codes and design standards, said Daniel Gerber, a lawyer with Rumberger, Kirk and Caldwell in Orlando.
How to prevent negligence lawsuits
• Use diligence with every inspection and repair
• Document all complaints, repairs and inspections
• Perform high levels of maintenance in exterior and interior of hotel
• Educate employees on both the facts and the public perceptions of mold
• If repairs are necessary, follow EPA guidelines
Source: Arthur Cook, attorney at Hill, Farrer & Burrill; Daniel Gerber, attorney at Rumberger, Kirk and Caldwell
Ten health effects of mold
Source: Arthur Cook, attorney at Hill, Farrer & Burrill
Reproduction in whole or part is prohibited.