Toxic Mold Lawsuit

In October 2015, a 44-year-old mother of two and resident of New Castle, Pennsylvania, died from a toxic mold infection. Her family later sued UPMC (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center) Shadyside where she had been undergoing treatment for acute myeloid leukemia, seeking to hold them liable for damages. They believed their loved one had contracted the infection at the hospital.

It was a sensible conclusion. In January 2017, the UPMC released the results of an internal report that found mold at the laundry facility that washed the hospitals’ linens—a mold similar to that which had infected the New Castle woman and other patients who died of mold infections at the UPMC facilities. The laundry facility washed the linens for all of UPMC’s 22 medical facilities.

UPMC also informed the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Allegheny County Health Department, and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that the testing led UPMC officials to believe the linens “were the likely source of the [mold] outbreak” a CNN article reported earlier this year.  The plaintiffs plan to use the internal report to support their case.

Between October 2014 and January 2017, five mold-infection-related deaths occurred at two UPMC hospitals. Several related lawsuits have been filed against the hospital system, which settled with two of the patients for $1.35 million each.

According to a 2009 study, hospital patients “are susceptible to air contaminants that can include biological agents dispersed throughout the premise.” The researchers go on to state that the hospital environment “often contains more biological substances than can be expected in an office or home environment,” though toxic mold can be present in these locations as well.

If you or a loved one contracted a toxic mold infection due to conditions at a hospital, at work, in a rental apartment, or in another public place, you may be able to recover damages in court.

What is Toxic Mold?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “there is always a little mold everywhere—in the air and on many surfaces.” The mold itself is not toxic, but some types of molds can produce “mycotoxins” that can be damaging to human health.

Mold is a form of fungus that likes damp, warm, and humid environments. That’s why you may see it in your shower or bath, or in areas under the sink or in the basement. Mold can also grow in building materials like wood and wood products, ceiling tiles, cardboard, drywall, and paper products, as well as in fabrics like carpet and upholstery. The term “mold” is a general term for many types of fungi, of which there are hundreds of thousands of various species.

Molds can be helpful to us. They are responsible for penicillin, cooking yeast, and blue cheese. But, they can also be associated with unpleasant effects—even if it’s just their unsightly appearance. When they’ve grown to the point that you can identify their patchy, dark presence, it’s important to clean the area to avoid any potential health problems.

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) concluded in a 2004 report that the presence of mold indoors can have certain health effects including upper respiratory symptoms, coughing, wheezing, asthma symptoms, and respiratory illnesses in children.

“Toxic mold” occurs when certain species of mold produce mycotoxins, which are toxic chemicals present on spores and small fragments of mold and fungus that are released into the air. When Humans inhale these chemicals, they may develop respiratory illness and related symptoms. Types of mold that may produce mycotoxins include:

  • Aspergillus
  • Penicillium
  • Stachybotrys
  • Chaetomium
  • Rhizopus
  • Trichoderma

These molds may appear black, white, orange, or brown, with a texture that looks fuzzy, sticky, slimy, or powdery. Like other molds, they develop in dark, damp areas where there is little ventilation. They don’t always produce mycotoxins, however. It’s only when the circumstances are just right that mycotoxins are released. The simple presence of a mold that may produce mycotoxins doesn’t mean there are mycotoxins around—but there could be.

Stachybotrys, which is also called “black mold,” is often to blame when people suffer from toxic-mold-related health problems in apartment buildings and offices. It can develop when there are leaks or water problems in the building. Flooding, faulty plumbing, and other water issues provide the perfect environment for this mold to grow, and residents in the building may often be unaware of its presence. This type of mold is often responsible for “sick building syndrome,” though the others listed above may also be responsible.

What Are Toxic Mold Infections?

If humans inhale or otherwise become exposed to mycotoxins, they may experience damaging health effects. Depending on the type of exposure and the person’s individual vulnerability, these toxins may create:

  • Skin infections
  • Sinus infections
  • Lung infections
  • Liver problems
  • Kidney effects
  • Other organ damage
  • Damage to the nervous system
  • Suppressed immune system
  • Cancer

Not all people will get sick when exposed to mycotoxins. Those who are particularly vulnerable include infants, the elderly, those with a mold sensitivity or allergy, those with weakened immune systems, those with underlying lung disease, and those receiving treatment in a hospital.

Several studies have found a connection between toxic mold and serious health effects. In the late 1990s, the CDC reported the results of an investigation of acute pulmonary hemorrhage (bleeding from the lungs) in 10 infants from Cleveland, Ohio. The infants all lived near each other and developed hemorrhages between January 1993 and December 1994. One of the infants died. The CDC associated the children’s conditions with toxic mold exposure, specifically to Stachybotrys, which was believed to have developed because of major household water damage that occurred during the six months before the infants developed their illnesses.

In 2008, researchers connected damp building-related illnesses—including respiratory, immunologic, and neurologic symptoms—with toxic black mold (Stachybotrys). They added that laboratory studies had found mycotoxins from this mold to cause inflammation in the lungs.

According to another study, “[m]ycotoxins are secondary metabolites produced by microfungi that are capable of causing disease and death in humans and other animals.” According to a 2012 study, exposure to these harmful chemicals can occur through inhalation, ingestion (of mycotoxins on food), or through the contact with the skin. And in a 2014 study review, researchers found that toxic mold could cause health effects like respiratory disease, central and peripheral neurological deficits, chronic fatigue, and more.

In 2007, researchers reported that the apparent “rise” in mold-related health problems may be connected with modern building practices, stating “[p]oorly built flat roofs cannot shed rain-water, while venting clothes dryers indoors can direct moist air to vulnerable interior surfaces.”

They added that “tighter” buildings slow the escape of water vapors associated with bathing and cooking, and may exacerbate heating problems. Finally, they noted that mold may “grow more readily” on the paper-coated surfaces of modern wallboard than on older plaster walls.

Hospitals Facing Mold Problems

Hospitals and medical centers may also expose people to dangerous mold. According to a 2017 article in Becker’s Hospital Review, hospitals have been fighting a war against antibiotic-resistant bacteria for some time, but now, fungal infections have become part of the problem.

“A lesser-known challenge,” the authors wrote, “is the rise in systemic fungal infections, which are a common cause of hospital-acquired infections and constitute a disproportionate percentage of mortalities in infectious disease.” Fungal infections, like bacterial infections, are becoming resistant to the antifungal therapies that we currently have, which makes them more dangerous and potentially deadly.

“The reality is that fungal infections can be fatal and dangerous, especially systemic, invasive infections that proliferate in the bloodstream and other organs such as the liver, kidney, and lung.” The authors also cited the fact that the CDC shut down the transplant ICU at the UPMC Presbyterian in 2015 to investigate the mold-infection deaths discussed above. The CDC noted that there is a need for better diagnostic tools to help identify these pathogens and that more hospitals need to be aware of the concern of fungal infections.

Types of Toxic Mold Injuries

When a person inhales or is otherwise exposed to mycotoxins from toxic mold, he or she may develop:

  • Allergic-type symptoms: itchy eyes, sneezing
  • Coughing & wheezing
  • Headaches
  • Fever
  • Memory loss
  • Pulmonary hemorrhage or edema
  • Heart inflammation and damage
  • Bleeding in other organs
  • Suppression of the immune system
  • Death

Toxic Mold Lawsuits

Individuals who have suffered serious illnesses from toxic mold infections and other health effects may be eligible to recover damages in court. In 2001, a California jury awarded a family of three $2.7 million because of health problems they had suffered due to toxic mold exposure in their apartment building. The family found water damage in their apartment and repeatedly asked management to repair it, but repairs were neglected, and the family developed health problems. Test samples of the apartment’s air, surfaces, and carpets showed evidence of stachybotrys and aspergillus.

In 2016, a New Jersey music teacher was awarded about $1.8 million from the school district she taught in for lung problems caused by toxic mold in her classroom. The teacher had complained about water damage in her middle school classroom that was not properly repaired, and she was later diagnosed with asthma and other lung conditions.

If you or a loved one has suffered from a toxic-mold-related injury, you may be eligible to file a toxic mold lawsuit. Chaffin Luhana is investigating these cases and invites you to call today at 1-888-316-2311.