. .

Invest in your success.
JVRA helps lawyers win cases by providing critical information you can use to establish precedent, determine demand and win arguments.

ARTICLE ID 42249

DEFENDANT''S Negligence - Breach of contract - Mold exposure - Breach of express and implied warranty - Allegation that leaking French doors caused the plaintiff''s home to be overtaken by mold which resulted in numerous physical ailments including alleged brain damage, respiratory problems, gastrointestinal problems and low white blood cell count. Defendant denied both liability and the nature and extent of the alleged damages.

Los Angeles County, California

The plaintiff, a 46-year-old vocal pedagogist alleged that she was injured as a result of mold exposure which resulted from faulty installation of a set of French doors in her home. The plaintiff alleged that the mold exposure caused her to have to flee her home. The defendant disputed liability and the nature and extent of the plaintiff’s injuries.

The plaintiff purchased a single family home located in West Covina, California. Just prior to opening escrow, the seller purchased a set of French doors from the defendant Home Depot. The doors were manufactured and installed by Home Depot’s vendor, the defendant, Fine Finish Sash & Door. The seller claimed that the reason for replacing the set of French doors was that the bottom of the doors were weathered from sprinklers spraying water on them, but claimed that they did not need to be replaced, but was doing so because he thought it would be a nice thing to do for the buyer of his home. Once the doors were installed, the seller contacted the defendant Fine Finish on a few occasions with complaints of water intrusion. The doors were ultimately replaced, and seller confirmed, after conducting a water test, that they no longer leaked. He disclosed what he considered to be minor issues with the doors which were now resolved to the plaintiff when she purchased the home, and provided her with the paper work for the set of doors.

After several months the plaintiff alleged that with the season’s first rain, the French doors began to leak. Although the defendants made numerous attempts to repair the doors, the defendants could not determine the source of the alleged water intrusion despite the plaintiff’s insistence that the water was entering the house through the doors’ threshold. The defendant Fine Finish finally concluded that they could not remedy the problem because the water was not entering the house through the doors, but from above the doors, due to the negligent installation of a trellis above the doors installed at or near the time the house was originally built. The defendant Fine Finish attempted to explain this problem to the plaintiff however, she refused to listen, and moved out of the residence, claiming severe bodily injuries. The plaintiff claimed that she was forced to flee her ________ square foot residence without taking any of her personal belongings as a result of the injuries she maintained that she suffered from the mold exposure. The plaintiff alleged that she sustained permanent brain damage, upper and lower respiratory problems, lung incapacity, voice impairment, low white blood cell count, dizziness, lethargy, shortness of breath, gastrointestinal problems, bloating, diarrhea, angina, hair loss, headaches, memory loss, stuttering, rashes and skin discoloration. The plaintiff blamed the defendant Home Depot and its trade contractor for the mold growth which purportedly was caused by water that entered through the threshold of the French doors installed in the family room of her home. The plaintiff moved into a Beverly Hills hotel where she resided for a two-year period and throughout the trial. The plaintiff alleged that her personal property had been subject to microbial contamination and was incapable of being cleaned. Among the belongings that the plaintiff claimed were damaged was a $________ chincilla coat and recording studio equipment as well as all household furnishings and clothing. The plaintiff also alleged that she was unable to return to work as a result of the alleged illnesses that she sustained. The plaintiff brought suit against the defendants Home Depot and Fine Finish for negligence, breach of contract and breach of express and implied warranty. During trial, the plaintiff attempted to amend her complaint to add fraud and to seek punitive damages. This request was rejected by the court. All causes of action except for negligence were dropped by the court during trial.

The defendants denied any negligence and disputed the plaintiff’s claims for damages. The defendants maintained that they were not responsible for the water intrusion into the plaintiff’s residence and that the water leakage was caused by faulty construction at the time that the house was erected. The defendants maintained that the trellis which was constructed over the French doors was the cause of the water leakage. The defendant Fine Finish contended that the water intrusion was caused by the negligent installation of the trellis located 18 inches above the French doors. There were three sets of French doors at the rear of the property. The trellis was above all three sets of doors. The original owner of the residence only replaced this one set of doors prior to plaintiff moving into the residence, but there was evidence that he had replaced the other two sets of doors at some other time in the past. There was also significant evidence of water intrusion above the other two sets of doors, below the trellis, and also evidence of mold growth under all three sets of French doors. The defense called at trial the certified industrial hygienist plaintiff’s original lawyer hired to perform testing at the residence and to render an opinion as to the source of water intrusion. He testified that it was his opinion that the water intrusion was caused by the negligent installation of the trellis, and that he told plaintiff this at the time he inspected the residence. Shortly after this, plaintiff’s former attorney withdrew from the case. He also testified that the highest concentrations of mold spores were found on the header above the door, including the only stachybotrys found in the residence. The plaintiff’s only liability expert testified at trial that he did not know why the doors were leaking.

The plaintiff demanded the sum of $26 million prior to trial. During the course of the trial, the plaintiff lowered her settlement demand to $________. The defendant aggressively argued that it was not responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries.

Despite the presence of stachybotrys, penicillium/aspergillus and a host of other molds, the defense successfully established the absence of any negligence. The defendant contended that the plaintiff suffered from a condition known as Conversion Disorder/Somatoform Disorder, which is someone who has a number of different symptoms that typically last for several years. Their symptoms cannot be traced to a specific physical cause. In people with Somatoform Disorder, medical test results are either normal or don’t explain the person’s symptoms. People who have Somatoform Disorder often become worried about their health because they don’t know what is causing their health problems. When the plaintiff’s experts in this mold case convinced her to believe that she had been exposed to harmful molds in her home, she began to believe that she was actually sick from it. During trial, it was revealed for the first time when Dr. Fisk was on the stand (the plaintiff’s neurological expert), that he had reviewed medical records from a car accident that plaintiff was involved in during the ________’s where plaintiff was experiencing seizure-like activity for approximately one year, but EEG’s confirmed she was not having seizures. She could not talk or walk, was stuttering and having other physical complaints with no objective findings. She was diagnosed with Somatoform Disorder. In this case, the defense doctors, after performing independent medical examinations, and after reviewing the plaintiff’s medical records, also diagnosed her with Somatoform Disorder. After Dr. Fisk testified about his review of these records, Judge Sarmiento ordered the plaintiff’s counsel to turn these records over to the defense. These records further convinced the defense experts, and the jury, that the plaintiff’s injuries were completely unrelated to exposure to mold in the residence.

At the conclusion of the trial, the plaintiff’s counsel asked the jury to award the plaintiff what it felt was reasonable compensation in view of the circumstances. After the six-week trial and two hours of deliberations, the jury by a vote of 10-2 returned a verdict in favor of the defendant, Fine Finish. Defendant Home Depot had been dismissed as a party to the litigation prior to the commencement of the trial.

Presently the defendant has instituted a post trial application to the court for costs in connection with its Offer to Compromise.

To read the full article, please login to your account or purchase

5 ways to win with JVRA

JVRA gives you jurisdiction-specific, year-round insight into the strategies, arguments and tactics that win. Successful attorneys come to the table prepared and use JVRA to:

  1. Determine if a case is winnable and recovery amounts.
  2. Determine reasonable demand for a case early on.
  3. Support a settlement demand by establishing precedent.
  4. Research trial strategies, tactics and arguments.
  5. Defeat or support post-trial motions through past case histories.

Try JVRA for a day or a month, or sign up for our deluxe Litigation Support Plan and put the intelligence of JVRA to work for all of your clients. See our subscription plans.