These days mold and "toxic mold" are the subject of increasing health concerns and lawsuits. If you've developed health problems or suffered property damage because of a mold infestation, you may be able to file an insurance claim or lawsuit to get compensation for your injuries and losses, including the cost of getting rid of the mold (called "mold remediation").
The first step in evaluating a potential toxic mold claim is to identify who is responsible for the mold infestation or exposure. You can file a claim against anyone who intentionally or negligently caused or contributed to your mold problem.
In this article, we'll walk you through potential targets for toxic mold claims (called "defendants"). You can file a claim against one or more defendants. Toxic mold claims typically involve disputes over property damage, personal injury, and professional malpractice.
Mold is a common term for fungi that are found in all environments all around the world. Mold can cause serious property damage and require expensive cleanup. Mold can also cause some people to get sick.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the health effects of mold exposure include:
Some people claim that mold exposure can lead to more serious health problems, such as pulmonary hemorrhage (bleeding in the lungs), exhaustion, memory loss, and even death. The CDC says further research is necessary to prove a definitive link between these more serious conditions and mold exposure.
If you discover a mold infestation in your home, apartment, condominium, vacation home, or some other building that you own, here is a list of the types of defendants who might be legally responsible.
When you file a lawsuit, you should include anyone who may share responsibility for your losses—you don't have to choose between defendants. Your case may involve some or all of the potential defendants listed below or defendants not listed here depending on the circumstances of your case. You'll likely need the help of a lawyer to suss out all of the potential defendants in a toxic mold claim.
In most cases, your first step should be to file a homeowners' insurance claim. You'll need to carefully read your policy to find out what type of mold infestation is covered and what is excluded from coverage.
Homeowners' insurance typically covers mold only when it's caused by a "covered peril." A peril is an event that damages your home or belongings. The perils covered by your homeowners' insurance are listed in your policy. Homeowners' insurance typically doesn't cover mold caused by neglect or lack of regular upkeep, including termite damage.
Examples of covered perils that can cause mold include:
Some insurance companies limit the amount they will pay for mold removal. Read your policy carefully and call your insurance agent if you have questions about what your policy covers.
Most homeowners' policies also have a list of "exclusions," meaning perils that aren't covered by the policy. For example, standard homeowners' insurance policies generally exclude flooding. If flood damage caused your mold problem your homeowners' insurance won't cover it unless you purchased flood insurance.
In dealing with your insurer, you have at least one ace in your hand. Insurance companies are bound by a legal doctrine called the "covenant of good faith and fair dealing," meaning that, in dealing with a policyholder, the insurance company is held to a high standard of conduct.
In practical terms, this means that if your insurance company drags its feet, tries to trick you or wriggle out of the terms of your homeowners' policy, or otherwise plays fast and loose with you, you may have a bad faith claim against it for violation of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing.
To learn more about homeowners' insurance, check out: Homeowners' Insurance: What You Need to Know.
If the mold infestation is the result of shoddy construction or materials, you may have a legal claim against the builder, general contractor, or one or more subcontractors for negligence—the failure to use reasonable care in the construction process.
Some states require builders or contractors to guarantee their work in the form of a warranty; you may be able to claim that the builder or contractor violated or "breached" such a warranty.
If the mold infestation is the result of poor architecture or engineering, such as a failure to include proper ventilation in the design of the home, you may have a claim against the architect or structural engineer for negligence.
Some states require architects or engineers to guarantee their work in the form of a warranty; you may also be able to claim that the architect or engineer breached that warranty.
If you can show that the mold infestation in your home was "imported" into it by way of moldy construction materials such as siding or drywall, you may have a claim against the commercial supplier of the mold-infested materials.
Most states require the seller of a home to disclose any known problems such as the presence of a mold infestation. If the prior owner knew of the presence of mold but didn't tell you when you bought your home, the owner may be liable to you for violating these disclosure laws.
Learn more about how to recognize potential mold problems before buying a house.
The seller's realtor (who is an agent of the seller) may also be liable for selling you a home with a mold infestation.
If you hired a property inspector to inspect your home before you bought it, the inspection company may be liable to you if it missed a mold infestation. You will need to carefully review the property report you were given, especially the language at the beginning regarding the scope of the inspection and any disclaimers.
Because of the special status of owners in a condominium complex, the condo association may be on the hook for a mold infestation, especially if it occurs in a common area.
Under the landlord-tenant laws of most states, landlords are subject to a legal doctrine called the "implied warranty of habitability," which makes the landlord responsible for keeping the rental property free of health hazards, including mold infestations.
Because the implied warranty of habitability is an obligation imposed by state law—whether the landlord likes it or not—it overrides any language in your lease that is inconsistent with that responsibility. So be skeptical and persistent if your landlord denies responsibility for a mold infestation under the terms of your lease.
Learn more about your landlord's liability for mold problems.
If you've developed health problems because of a mold infestation at your place of work, you may be able to file a workers' compensation claim. Whether workers' compensation will cover your mold-related injuries—and prevent you from taking your employer to court—is an evolving area of the law and will depend on the particular circumstances of your case.
To learn more about worker's compensation, check out: Your Right to Worker's Comp Benefits FAQ.
It's no secret that many schools are old and in need of repair, which is a recipe for mold growth. If you're a student or teacher at a school with a mold infestation, you may be able to sue the school district and others responsible for building and maintaining school facilities, but it won't be easy. Public schools and other government agencies have sovereign immunity, which shields them from many lawsuits. You'll have to follow special rules, which vary from state to state. A lawyer can help you figure out how to file a lawsuit against a school and whether your claim is worth pursuing.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) publishes a guide to Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings.
The EPA has reliable information about mold on its website, including articles about:
The American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) has also put together a Mold Resource Center with helpful infographics, FAQs, and resources. Finally, you can get tips on how to control mold from the CDC.
The science behind mold can be complex and proving a link between health problems and mold exposure is especially difficult, so you'll want a lawyer on your side who has experience with mold claims.
Learn more about finding a personal injury lawyer. When you're ready, you can also connect with a lawyer directly from this page for free.