When mold gets out of control, the value of a property may plummet and residents may develop health problems. The longer mold is left to grow, the harder it is to remove. It is important to seek the services of a legal professional with experience in toxic mold cases before you contact your insurance company. To settle a claim successfully, investigations may be required, along with the testimony of engineering and medical experts.
Does Your Homeowners Insurance Policy Cover Mold Damage?
The cause of mold damage is important in determining whether your insurance policy will cover the cost of remediation and repair. Mold removal is excluded if the damage occurred slowly over time and/or is a result of the property owner’s failure to perform maintenance. Examples include mold in a bathroom because of a leaky shower that was never fixed, and roof damage that occurs because the homeowner neglected to repair loose or missing shingles.
Your insurance policy will more likely cover mold remediation if the cause is a peril, such as a sudden accident or natural disaster. Examples of covered perils include the following:
- Heavy snow or ice dams on a roof
- Burst pipes or other accidental discharge of water
- Damage due to theft or vandalism
- Damage caused by a vehicle
For example, the policy may cover the cost of removing mold if it develops after a house fire that was extinguished when firefighters used water to put out the flames. Similarly, if mold starts growing after a water heater, washer, or dishwasher breaks, you may be covered. Ice dams occur when melting snow on a roof begins to freeze at the edge or in the gutters, creating a blockage that prevents water from draining properly. Ice dams can create mold problems inside the house, as well as in insulation, soffits, and wood structures that underpin the roof.
Flooding is considered an excluded peril. Most standard homeowners’ policies will not provide protection from water damage if it is due to flooding. Policyholders must purchase flood insurance at an additional cost to obtain coverage for damage caused by heavy rains, mudslides, hurricanes, tidal surges, and other types of flooding. Flood insurance may be mandatory if the property is in a flood hazard zone.
Your flood insurance policy should cover the cost of remediation for mold and mildew, as long as you inspected and properly maintained your property after the flood occurred. It is the homeowner’s responsibility to remove standing water and take measures to dry out the property as soon as it is safe to go back into the home. Otherwise, your insurance company may attempt to deny your mold damage claim.
However, many insurance policies that exclude flooding also cover water damage due to a “sudden and accidental” loss, such as a burst plumbing fixture. These policies deny coverage for fixing the broken fixture, but do cover the resulting water damage. It is important not to confuse “flooding,” which is excluded, with this form of loss, which is covered.
It may cost thousands of dollars to remediate mold damage. After a large increase in mold damage claims about 20 years ago, insurance companies began to revise their policies to add what is known as an absolute mold exclusion. This states that the policy does not apply to losses caused by or resulting from the growth of or exposure to mold, no matter what triggered it. In other words, insurance companies do not cover mold at all, even when it happens as a result of a covered peril.
Other insurance companies have drastically reduced the amount they will pay for mold damage. It may be possible to purchase additional mold coverage in the form of an optional rider; the cost of the rider will increase if you live in an area that is humid.
Standard policies will not cover mold that occurs due to a preventable water leak. If you neglect to fix a leaky faucet for weeks and it is hot and humid, you could end up with a mold problem that your insurance provider will deny. Also, if you do not use a dehumidifier in your basement and you live in a humid area, any resulting mold damage will not be covered by a standard insurance policy.
Filing a Claim for Mold Damage
Before filling a claim for mold damage, read your insurance policy carefully. The wording in your policy may be ambiguous, and a skilled attorney with an understanding of insurance law can explain the extent of your coverage. If you file a claim for damages caused by a sudden accident, such as a burst water pipe, fire, or lightning, your insurer may send a mold remediation company to dry out your house before mold has a chance to grow. This may prevent you from having to file a separate mold claim later.
It is important to keep track of all repairs and save all receipts if you are forced to file a separate mold claim later. Taking photos of the damage is also a good idea. It is possible that initial repairs may not be adequate to prevent future mold, and you may need to prove that the mold you discover later is a result of the covered peril and not your failure to fix a normal water leak. If you discover mold that you believe is due to a covered peril, do not clean the damaged area prior to filing another claim. Contact an attorney and photograph the damage yourself to ensure you have the representation and evidence you will need to support your claim.
If you believe you have the basis for filing a claim for mold, it is best to act quickly. Otherwise, your insurance company may argue that the mold damage could have been prevented if you acted sooner. A prompt response is also important if you take the matter to court. In California, there is a statute of limitations that specifies the time period in which you are eligible to file a claim after discovering the problem.
Negative Health Effects from Mold
Lingering mold and mildew can cause several different health problems, ranging from mild coughing, itching, and eye irritation to sore throat and serious respiratory problems. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), mycotoxins from mold growth can lead to the following:
- Skin rash and other allergy symptoms
- Aggravation of asthma and other pre-existing respiratory ailments
Persons with allergies, sinusitis, lung diseases, and weakened immune systems are at greatest risk of suffering harmful consequences due to mold exposure. This includes young children and senior citizens. Some of these symptoms of mold exposure are similar to those of the flu. However, if the symptoms get worse when you are in a moldy area, it is likely that mold is triggering or aggravating your illness.
Mold is a living organism that thrives in humid conditions. However, if thick and plentiful, mold can create health problems even after it is dead and dry. In addition, certain types of mold are more toxic than others. If toxic mold is ingested or inhaled, it can induce asthma and other health problems, including the following:
Mycotoxins produced by mold and fungus may also be carcinogenic and cause immune system failure.
Types of Losses Covered for Mold Damage
The losses covered by insurance claims will depend on whether the mold affects not only the house, but also the health of residents. Property damage losses that may be covered include:
- Temporary housing if the home is not habitable
- Paying for professionals to produce a mold inspection report
- Replacing personal property ruined by mold or mildew
- Removing all traces of mold on all surfaces
- Repairing or replacing wooden structures
Personal injury claims will require testimony of medical professionals, possibly including allergists or other physicians specializing in mold. The medical experts must testify with reasonable certainty that the mold was the cause of the health problems. Losses covered under a personal injury claim may include compensation for diagnostic tests, medical treatment, and possibly lost wages if the health effects are severe enough from preventing the person from going to work. Pain and suffering may also be compensable.
Identifying Mold Damage
There are many types of mold, and it may be difficult to tell if you have a mold problem. However, prompt identification of mold is critical to preventing small problems from becoming big ones, thereby avoiding further unnecessary damage and negative health effects. When homeowners do not address mold quickly, their insurance company may be more likely to deny their claims. Water stains, musty odors, and water leaks are sure signs that mold may be invading your home.
However, sometimes mold is lurking in areas unseen, such as air conditioning systems, below floor coverings, in wood, and behind walls. Surfaces that are high in cellulose are particularly attractive to mold, including the following:
- Construction paper
Mold is insidious; it can start growing within 48 hours in damp, humid conditions above 70 degrees.
The most effective steps a homeowner can take are to clean regularly and ventilate properly. The following steps can help prevent mold:
- Clean your bathroom often
- Use dehumidifiers or air conditioners to keep the humidity in your home under 60 percent
- Install exhaust fans in bathrooms and kitchens
- Check cabinetry under sinks for mold
- Refrain from installing carpet in bathrooms, basements, and other damp areas
- Clean out gutters regularly
- Inspect hoses in washers, refrigerators, and dishwashers to prevent accidental leaks
- Winterize pipes if needed
If you experience a flood, pipe burst, or other water problem, photograph the damage and then remove any standing water. Take furniture or rugs outside to dry and open the windows or run a dehumidifier. It is important to dry out affected areas within 24 to 48 hours to prevent mold growth.
California Laws Regarding Mold
The California Toxic Mold Protection Act of 2001 authorized the creation of limits for exposure to mold to avoid public health risks. Property sellers must disclose the presence of mold if it is above permissible exposure limits. California courts have allowed tenants to withhold paying rent if they believed mold made their apartments inhabitable. Tenants have been permitted to clean up mold on their own and deduct the cost from their rent. San Francisco has proclaimed mold to be a public health nuisance, thereby giving tenants the right to sue their landlords for violating city nuisance laws if they fail to remove mold.
California residents may be able to bring suit toward builders, contractors, or architects if construction defects are proven to have caused mold. Also, if mold appears in your home after you hired a company to clean or repair your home following a flood, you may be able to file a claim against that company for negligence.
Los Angeles Property Damage Lawyers at Abir Cohen Treyzon Salo, LLP Tackle Mold Damage Claims
If toxic mold has damaged your home and potentially caused you or your family to suffer health problems, the Los Angeles property damage lawyers at ACTS Law, LLP are skilled in insurance law and can help you understand coverage limits written into your policy. We are committed to helping you obtain maximum financial compensation to repair or replace your affected property and pay for any medical treatments that may be necessary. For a free consultation, call 833-ACTS-LAW or contact us online today.
Our offices are located in San Diego and Los Angeles, and we serve clients throughout Orange County and Los Angeles County, including Beverly Hills, Calabasas, Malibu, Santa Monica, Long Beach, Hidden Hills, Pasadena, San Marino, Brentwood, Encino, Newport Beach, and Foresthill.