Monterey County, California, Fraud Unit Workers Claim Mold In The District
Attorney’s Office Made Them Sick
By Dan Fastenberg Posted Oct 8th 2012, at
This story was updated on Oct. 8 at 11:30 a.m. EDT.
In recent years, there has been a steady stream of lawsuits from workers --
many of them successful -- claiming that
mold made them seriously ill.
Still, the lawsuit filed by
a legal secretary in the fraud unit in the District Attorney's Office in
Monterey County, Calif., and some of her colleagues makes shocking
allegations. Forest was undergoing radiation treatment for cancer while
working in the District Attorney's Office -- a "boxy stucco building" called
'The Annex," reports the Monterey County Weekly. (The building is
She was moved from the building in 2008, but her lawyers say her condition
was worsened by mold that proliferated there. Now she weighs no more than
100 pounds and is deathly ill, says her attorney, Gordon Stemple. She's also
unable to move without the help of a wheelchair. And her nine co-workers
have said the mold has taken its toll on their health too, even though they
too were moved off the site four years ago, according to William Litt,
deputy counsel for the county. (He also says Forest's current health
condition is not related to cancer, and that she is a "breast cancer
For their part, the plaintiff's lawyers have spoken about their clients only
as a group. "The only thing my clients have in common is going into this
building and coming out sick," says attorney David Churchill, who says his
clients have registered problems with shortness of breath, recurring
headaches, itchy eyes and bloody noses.
The plaintiffs' civil suit is seeking damages from the building's landlords,
Jack and Beverly Hudson, in addition to the companies responsible for the
office's cleanup, Ream Construction and Mason Construction. The suit, filed
in 2010, is set to go to trial Oct. 29. The initial lawsuit was followed by
further litigation raised by the Hudsons against Monterey County.(Churchill
told AOL Jobs that the legal team representing the plaintiffs will
not be making further comments on the case, including the amount of money
that the plaintiffs are seeking, until the trial begins.)
District Attorney Dean Flippo previously has dismissed the allegations
stemming from when the plaintiffs were still working on site, saying, "there
are no verifiable health hazards in the building."
But the county does not deny the presence of mold, recognizing that it was
present from at least 2002 to 2008. But after cleanings by the county in
2008 and 2009, "we contend it was gone," Litt told AOL Jobs. "We had
it tested and no excessive levels were found."
Moreover, the types of mold that were found, Litt said, "don't cause
problems beyond transient respiratory problems for those who are allergic."
There's no connection, he says, to other health issues like hypertension.
And even if some of the workers had experienced respiratory problems,
"there's no reason they should still be suffering from" the mold, he said.
Indeed, the building has had a long history of having mold issues. When a
water pipe burst in the building in 2002, the county sent in "industrial
hygiene inspectors," and their testing revealed unusually high levels of
mold -- anywhere between 6 to 400 times the normal level.
Regardless of how the Monterey County case comes out, mold has been a "pressing
legal and health problem
for employers" throughout the nation, stretching back to at least the 1990s,
reports USA Today.
One early case that set the precedent for plaintiffs winning damages for
moldy workplaces was over the closure of the Martin County Courthouse in
South Florida in 1995. Toxic mold was so pervasive at the courthouse that
paperwork at the site had to be thrown out. A lawsuit resulted in a $14
million payout for the county after the construction company was found
But skeptics think the problem may in fact have its roots in a petri dish of
"There's a lot of overreaction and overkill," said Patrick Perrone, a lawyer
for the Newark, N.J.-based McCarter & English law firm, who represents
property owners in mold claims. "This is a litigation trend," he told USA
Today. "Attorneys have realized they can bring a case and make money."
Either way, the
plaintiffs are no
doubt charting new territory.
"Currently, there are no federal standards or recommendations for airborne
concentrations of mold or mold spores" in the workplace, according to the
Occupational Safety & Health Administration of the Department of Labor.