May 27--For Ben, the dog who earns his keep by sniffing out mold that lurks under carpeting and behind baseboards, it was business as usual on Wednesday.
Industrial hygienist Patrick Harter had Ben, the "mold dog," out on yet another job for AAA Environmental of Northern Illinois in McHenry, nosing for mold the way other dogs search for explosives.
"In four years of doing mold, this is my busiest ever," he said, and he doesn't anticipate a slowdown.
Indeed, many people whose livelihoods depend on public perceptions of whether exposure to mold will make them sick said they are not worried about a study released Tuesday in which authors could not find a connection between mold exposure and serious illnesses.
The report, from the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, a non-profit advisory group, said it could not pinpoint a link between exposure to mold and loss of memory, seizures, skin outbreaks or numerous other conditions that have been claimed in a deluge of lawsuits in the last three years since mold began receiving widespread media attention.
In one Texas case, a court awarded $34 million to a woman who said mold caused her family's extensive medical problems.
"I don't think the report changes anything," said Alex Robertson, the Woodland Hills, Calif., lawyer who has built a national reputation as a mold litigator.
His clients have included television figure Ed McMahon, who sued his insurance carrier after he said mold sickened him and his wife and caused the death of his dog. The case was settled out of court.
"The report has nothing new. It just summarizes other reports," said Robertson. "The report agreed that mold can trigger asthma, causes upper respiratory ailments, sinusitis, etc., but that's what previous reports have said.
"It certainly won't slow down the phone calls we get," said Robertson, who has mold-related suits pending in five states.
A spokesman for the insurance industry said she was "obviously pleased with the results of the report" but noted that in recent months the number of lawsuits related to homeowner's policy claims had begun to decline, partly because media attention to the topic had waned but mostly because insurance coverage for homeowners now typically has wording that excludes coverage for mold.
"The measures that insurance companies have put in place, the language that has been put in to exclude mold in most situations, has stemmed the tide [of lawsuits], in essence," according to Loretta Worters, vice president of communications for the Insurance Information Institute. "Things have abated somewhat. It's not as explosive as it once was."
Or maybe the target has just shifted. Robertson said there has been "an explosion" in suits involving commercial liability insurance, which has less legal flexibility on coverage exclusions than homeowner's property and casualty carriers do.
And there is disagreement that the homeowner's insurers are looking at an improved climate, because decisions are near on many suits challenging the insurers' move to exclude mold coverage as a "bad faith" practice, according to John Hayes, editor of Mold magazine, a Berwyn, Pa., journal that tracks mold-related legal issues.
Hayes' magazine, one of several law-oriented magazines owned by Harris Martin Publishing that specialize in such "toxic torts" as asbestos, lead and other environmental concerns, was founded 2 1/2 years ago--about the same time a raft of other businesses and services popped up to seek, analyze, remove and otherwise respond to a heightened public awareness of mold.
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