A Tale of Two (Moldy) Houses

Author:Ms Donna Marron
Profession:Plews Shadley Racher & Braun
Originally published December, 2003

Last year the firm recovered more than $1,000,000 in two moldy home cases. Plews Shadley Racher & Braun's mold-litigation practice has expanded substantially, as these cases reflect.

This past holiday season came early for an Indiana family whose dream home turned into a nightmare. A water-intrusion problem led to a pervasive mold infestation. The family, called the Smiths here for privacy purposes, bought farm and residential property north of a suburban Indianapolis town and in 1998 had a custom home constructed. The Smiths chose a method of construction that used prefabricated house components. The prefabricated components arrived at the building site by truck and were assembled at the building site by a crew under the supervision of a construction manager.

What should have been a relatively uneventful assembly turned sour. The inexperienced and inadequately supervised set crew committed numerous errors. Components of the house that had been included in the package of shipped components were omitted from the assembled house. Interruptions in the building process allowed house components to become thoroughly wetted. These wetted components became warped when they ultimately dried. The portion of the roof draining to the chimney area (the cricket) was constructed in a manner that caused water running off the roof during storms to flow against and to run up vertical chimney surfaces. This design flaw promoted extensive and repeated water flow into the exterior wall in the chimney area. The brick veneer was installed without the one-inch gap between the brick and the outside of the exterior wall required by the applicable building code. Grout had been allowed to fill the gap and in some places abutted the exterior wall. The brick veneer also lacked weep holes. Settling and warping had broken window seals causing drafts, and caused uneven floors and wall cracks. Water leakage was evident around certain windows of the house. The Smiths sued the company that made the prefabricated house components and the construction manager.

A more sinister problem surfaced during the winter and spring of 2000-2001. An intense storm renewed the water intrusion problems that the Smiths believed had been fixed by repairs. A contractor attempting to address the water intrusion problem exposed the interior of a wall in the vicinity of the chimney. Pervasive mold growth and rotted wood were evident. Subsequent indoor air quality testing by two...

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