Is the Problem Mold, or Mold-related Litigation?

Mold litigation, not mold-related disease, is the real epidemic in the U.S. That’s the word from – of all people – a lawyer. “Humans have been exposed to mold, both indoors and out, since the beginning of time. Mold has not suddenly become more dangerous, and humans suddenly aren’t more vulnerable to mold,” says John Sweeney, a lawyer with the firm of Miles & Stockbridge, Baltimore, MD. “We’re experiencing an epidemic of claims about unspecific, unrelated, and transient medical symptoms, all attributed to the ‘toxin of the moment,’ with plaintiff’s lawyers leading the charge and proclaiming that mold is the cause while environmental ‘consultants’ and unscrupulous remediation contractors feed the frenzy,” Sweeney adds HVAC contractors are often in the crosshairs in these lawsuits, but Sweeney says they’re also in an ideal position. “Right from the beginning of a job, whether it’s an initial installation or a significant renovation, HVAC contractors can help manage not only their own risk of facing a mold-related claim, but also the attendant risk of building property owners and managers,” he says. Sweeney’s advice: • Be sensitive to the fact that wherever there’s moisture there’s the potential for mold. Many claims can be prevented by identifying and remedying sources of internal moisture early on. • Have a “full scope” awareness of the building and its surroundings so you can advise building owners or managers about the risks specific to their building, and the steps they can take. • Size systems correctly to ensure proper moisture removal. • Keep an eye on other trades, especially when it comes to insulation installation. Improperly installed insulation is one of the leading areas where mold will take hold • Educate yourself on proper mold remediation techniques. Sweeney recommends his clients follow the New York Department of health guidelines. “We find that those are a fairly rigorous yet reasonable standard, and most public health departments that might be called in to review a situation would look upon compliance with those standards as being an appropriate level of care,” Sweeney says. • Take the first “communication of concern” from a customer very seriously. “Sit down with them immediately, listen to their concerns, analyze the problem, and figure out how to fix it,” Sweeney advises. “I many cases the responsivness and attitude of the contractor makes lawsuits go away. Remember that nobody wins a lawsuit. They slow things to a crawl, damage business relationships, and distract valuable resources. You don’t want to win a lawsuit because you don’t want to have a lawsuit” In other mold-related news, Federated Insurance has developed helpful hints on mold for plumbing and HVAC contractors. The information includes fact sheets, pre- and post-inspection forms, and frequently asked questions such as what to do if mold is discovered in the middle of a repair job. Copies of Federated’s information package are available through the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors National Association. Call 800/533-7694 or visit www.naphcc.org/publications/Moldinformation.pdf.

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