Following a jail riot, Reggie Townsend, serving 23 years in a Wisconsin prison, was put in a segregation unit with “wet, moldy and foul-smelling” bedding which the jailer did not change despite his request. “Though he did not suffer any physical harm from the unsanitary bedding, Townsend was deprived of the ‘minimal civilized measure of life’s necessities,’ the jury decided after deliberating six hours,” and awarded him $295K. (The Smoking Gun, Sept. 19; AP/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Sept. 23).
Welcome LA Weekly readers; this website is mentioned and I am quoted in a less-than-entirely-coherent story about mold litigation in this week’s LA Weekly. The story focuses on Sharon Kramer, who has given up a full-time career to pound the drums over her fight with her insurer alleging mold harms after a remediation; and an unfortunate lawsuit brought by scientist Bruce Kelman against Kramer. Kelman only wants an apology from Kramer for her issuing a press release that falsely claimed he lied under oath; Kramer has refused, and Kelman is still stuck in litigation where he will likely come up with a Pyrrhic victory. (Kelman’s work writing a layperson’s guide to the science of mold for the Manhattan Institute is central to the libel allegations.) Kramer, meanwhile, blames her aging on exposure to mold, rather than, say, turning 56. The story suffers for treating Erin Brockovich as the archetype of a justified plaintiff; Overlawyered readers know better.
The story is worthwhile for one new tidbit of information, the poetic justice facing Ed McMahon for his bogus mold lawsuit:
In 2003, another raft of huge mold news stories broke nationwide, and Kramer paid close attention. The most famous, and strangest, was that of Johnny Carson’s sidekick Ed McMahon, who took a $7.2 million settlement after suing for $20 million in his claim that mold made him and his wife sick — and killed his sheepdog, Muffin. …
In the McMahon case, some see the tragic unraveling of a popular public figure egged on by an attorney, Allan Browne. No hard, scientific evidence was ever made public proving that McMahon or his dog suffered the specific mold allergies and immune-system problems that, in rare cases, can be set off by household mold.
Since then, McMahon has become a sad figure, with a series of new troubles, including his default this year on his palatial 7,000-square-foot home on Mulholland Drive, involving a $4.8 million loan from the infamous lender Countrywide. And he just sued again, bizarrely accusing investment tycoon Robert Day of having in his mansion a poorly lit staircase on which McMahon says he fell during a party last year. McMahon is belatedly alleging he broke his neck but that doctors missed it.
The longtime TV pitchman spent years convincing the courts and the general public that his home contained rampant, poisonous, deadly mold strong enough to fell a large dog. McMahon talked it up for so long that he now faces the daunting task of selling a home he can no longer afford, that people believe is riddled with toxins.
Also interesting to me is the story’s quote of me. I gave an e-mail interview to the author, Daniel Heimpel in February. It’s interesting what gets used and what doesn’t get used, so I am going to attach the entire interview.
Here’s the full February 28 interview:
Foreclosure-endangered TV personality Ed McMahon on why the much-publicized $7.2 million settlement over mold in his Beverly Hills house didn’t really go that far, once the professionals got their cut: “By the time that’s all over, and you rebuild the house from the outside in. … A lot of things went wrong.” (AP/Grand Haven (Mich.) Tribune, Jun. 7).
Three years ago, when he was 2, a medical exam discovered brain lesions on Kellen Gorman. His family blames “toxic mold” for his autism (though his two siblings weren’t affected) in the house, and sued 17 defendants—including the lumberyard that supplied the wood for the house. Six weeks into trial, the case has settled for $22.6 million and, amazingly, it’s the lumberyard that’s paying the bulk of it: $13 million, or more than $200,000 for each of its sixty employees. As it was, the lumberyard had hired seventeen experts to try the case, but had ten of them (including a toxicologist and microbiolgist) excluded when they missed a court-ordered deadline for disclosure. (The Gormans’ attorney, Brian Witzer, accuses a defense attorney of trying to backdate a document, and says he has filed ethical charges.) The Gormans already have plans for their millions: “We’ll tear [the house] down and take it to a hazardous waste dump and build a really nice house,” [Dana] Gorman said. “It will cost a lot to tear down and rebuild.” (Josh Grossberg, “Manhattan Beach family wins $22.6 million suit”, Los Angeles Daily Breeze, Nov. 7; NBC-4, Nov. 4). And if housing seems a bit more expensive in California, it’s because even the raw materials suppliers must purchase insurance against the risk of multi-million-dollar junk science verdicts.
We’re honored for this website to have such a prominent place in a column in the latest Forbes. (William Baldwin, “Seventh-Amendment Follies”, Apr. 11). Links to the stories mentioned: $27 million Ford Escort verdict; $49 million punitive damage Dodge Caravan verdict and follow-up; $4.9 billion Chevy Malibu verdict. You may also be interested in our related site, Point of Law, which has a more academic focus, including a section on the issue of science and the courts.
The latest issue of Forbes also has an excellent story about the junk science behind mold litigation. Dr. Gary Ordog travels the country, diagnosing just about every conceivable illness as being caused by exposure to mold.
A California judge once said Ordog “lacks credibility completely” after he testified that he was chief toxicologist at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital in Santa Clarita, which has no such department; that he’d published “hundreds” of scholarly articles, when a search of the PubMed database turns up fewer than 70, almost all of them dealing with gunshot wounds and trauma; and that former President Bill Clinton called him personally to run a special mold commission for the Environmental Protection Agency, even though an EPA spokesman says the agency’s authority doesn’t include indoor air quality. Ordog “is completely abusing the system,” says James Robie, a defense lawyer with Robie & Matthai in Los Angeles who has cross-examined Ordog several times. “He is possibly the most dishonest man I have ever met.”
“Stepping into an issue that has alarmed homeowners and led to hundreds of lawsuits and billions of dollars in insurance payments, a government panel of experts reported yesterday that toxic mold in homes did not appear to pose a serious health threat to most people.” A panel of epidemiologists, toxicologists and pediatricians convened by the Institute of Medicine, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, surveyed existing scientific literature on the subject. “Though the experts said mold and indoor dampness were associated with respiratory problems and symptoms of asthma in certain susceptible people, they found no evidence of a link between mold and conditions like brain or neurological damage, reproductive problems and cancer.” (Anahad O’Connor, New York Times, May 26). For more on mold litigation, see Dec. 4 and earlier posts; “The Growing Hazard of Mold Litigation”, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Manhattan Institute Center for Legal Policy, Jul. 17, 2003 (paper in PDF format/press release). More: press release, video briefing and report links from National Academies.
“Did you hear the one about the guy with the Park Avenue apartment full of toxic mold? He couldn?t find anyone to buy the place for $15.5 million, so he jacked up the asking price last week to $18 million. … At 515 Park Avenue, real-estate developer Richard Kramer would have you believe that recently, his apartment went up in value by $2.5 million even as he and the condominium?s board of managers continue to fight multimillion-dollar lawsuits against the building?s developers and sponsors, in which they allege that the 43-story tower is plagued with a mold infestation and major construction deficiencies.” (Blair Golson, “Toxic-Mold Gold: Shoddy High Rises Sold With Flaws”, New York Observer, Jun. 23 (temporary URL — after it expires, try search function))
Archived entries before July 2003 can also be found here.
2003: “Mold — to the highest bidder!“, Jun. 23.
2002: “‘Doctors find no evidence of mold as a toxic disease’“, Sept. 23; “Judge questions ‘shotgun’ naming of 282 defendants in trailer-mold case“, Aug. 21; “The rewards of growing mold together“, May 9; “Mold sweepstakes: You May Already Be a Winner“, Apr. 25 (& update May 21, 2003).
2000: “Spread of mold law“, Oct. 10.