Mold Cases Prove Persistent—Will Landlords Cough Up Cash for Little Black Spot Suits?

Many a New York basement and unventilated bathroom is thick with the stuff; the city’s courts may be next.

A few weeks ago, Manhattan’s appellate court overturned an earlier decision blocking damage claims for health problems resulting from living in moldy buildings, The Journal reports—a decision that could result in a wave of personal injury lawsuits.

The court decided that scientific evidence now indicates a causal relationship between mold and health problems, opening a legal door that has been closed since 2008, when a judge found insufficient evidence that mold or a damp indoor environment causes illness.

The change has left building owners, co-op and condo lawyers worrying about the musty recesses of their buildings, and whether a damp basement could be grounds for a lawsuit, according to the Journal.

And worry they should. Last year, housing inspectors issued 15,942 violations for mold-related conditions, which could equal an awful lot of lawsuits.

Dwellers of dank apartments experiencing headaches, nausea and respiratory distress can thank Hell’s Kitchen tenant Brenda Cornell for bringing mold back to the court’s attention.

Cornell, who lived above a Hell’s Kitchen basement that was “damp, musty, and harboring bugs and mice,” is seeking $11.8 million in damages, according to the lawsuit.

Cornell said she experienced dizziness, chest tightness, congestion, shortness of breath, a rash, swollen eyes and a metallic taste in her mouth after workers started construction on a basement. The problems abated after Cornell fled the apartment, the lawsuit claims.

“It is going to result in a heck of a lot more lawsuits being filed by people who have mold- and moisture-related conditions and suffer from health effects,” Bill Sothern, a certified industrial hygienist told the The Journal.

He may be right. In Texas, where mold-afflicted residents have been long been able to sue, the number of mold-related claims shot up sharply in the early 2000s, costing Texas insurance companies approximately $4 billion.

kvelsey@observer.com