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Pittsburgh Toxic Mold Lawsuits

In February 2017, a Pennsylvania family filed a new medical malpractice lawsuit in Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas. They claimed that UPMC University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Shadyside—along with their laundering services company, Paris Cleaners—are responsible for the death of a 65-year-old telephone line installer. The man contracted a toxic mold infection that led to his death, and the family believed it came from the hospital linens.

That man was one of seven who died after acquiring a fungal infection at UPMC hospitals between October 2014 and October 2016. Five cases occurred at UPMC Presbyterian and Montefiore hospitals, and two at UPMC Shadyside. The second case from UPMC Shadyside was a 44-year-old mother of two who developed a toxic-mold infection during an admission for myeloid leukemia treatment.

An internal UPMC investigation linked the mold to the linens. Investigators found mold at the laundry facility, as well as in a Montefiore laundry storage area. That mold was similar to the types that infected the patients.

Pittsburgh residents who experienced serious health issues because of toxic mold are advised to speak to the toxic mold attorneys at Chaffin Luhana immediately. An investigation of your potential case may show that the party who owned or maintained the premises where you were exposed to the hazardous condition was negligent by allowing the toxic mold to grow, and you may be able to recover damages in court.

What is Toxic Mold?

Mold is a general term that refers to thousands of species of fungi that like to grow in dark, damp places that have little ventilation. It often shows up like a stain on building surfaces, and may have a strange or unpleasant odor. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “there is always a little mold everywhere—in the air and on many surfaces.”

Most types of mold are not seriously harmful to human health. In fact, some can be helpful to us. Penicillin, cooking yeast, and blue cheese all come from mold. Mold can form in our homes, offices, and other buildings, and are not only unsightly, but may cause physical damage to portions of the building.

When mold grows to the point where we can see it, it has the potential to cause health problems. It releases tiny spores that can become airborne, which are invisible to the naked eye and can lodge in human lungs. The simple act of breathing can pull these spores into the body where they can cause allergic reactions such as sneezing, runny nose, red eyes, and even a skin rash. They can also exacerbate asthma symptoms.

Certain types of mold can be even more dangerous. There are about 100 species (out of thousands) that under the right conditions, can release what are called “mycotoxins”—dangerous chemicals that have the potential to cause more serious health problems. These types of mold are commonly called “toxic mold.” Though the mold itself is not toxic, the mycotoxins are.

Toxic mold may exist in your home, school, workplace, rental property, or hospital, without you realizing it, though you may notice the distinct odor. The simple presence of the mold doesn’t mean the mycotoxins are present, however. The presence of other materials like zinc, cellulose, and other elements can make it more likely that the mold will produce mycotoxins.

Types of mold that may produce mycotoxins include:

  • Aspergillius
  • Penicillium
  • Stachybotrys
  • Chaetomium
  • Rhizopus
  • Trichoderma

Toxic mold is sometimes called “black” mold, though it can appear in other colors as well. It is most likely to develop in buildings with poor plumbing or leaking problems, and commonly exists in moist areas inside walls, under floors (or carpeting), or above ceilings. These types of molds can be particularly dangerous, as they can release spores into the living area without people being aware of it.

Stachybotrys, for example, is often associated with “sick building syndrome.” This syndrome may occur in buildings where there is flooding or faulty plumbing. After mold forms, people exposed to it may develop respiratory symptoms, nausea, itchy eyes, and other related health issues.

Health Effects of Toxic Mold

Humans may be exposed to Mycotoxins that airborne by inhaling them, touching them, or ingesting them in their food, where they can cause harmful health effects.

In 2004, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) concluded that the presence of mold indoors can cause upper respiratory symptoms, coughing, wheezing, asthma symptoms, and respiratory illnesses in children.

Not everyone will get sick when they are exposed to toxic mold. But infants, the elderly, those with compromised immune systems, and those receiving hospital treatment, may be particularly vulnerable. Depending on the type of exposure and the person’s individual vulnerability, toxic mold exposure may cause:

  • Skin infections
  • Sinus infections
  • Lung infections
  • Liver problems
  • Kidney effects
  • Other organ damage
  • Damage to the nervous system
  • Suppressed immune system
  • Cancer

Research on toxic mold and its effects on human health has produced evidence that the mycotoxins can be damaging. In the late 1990s, for example, the CDC investigated a series of infant deaths that occurred in Cleveland Ohio. Between January 1993 and December 1994, ten babies in a relatively small geographical area died from acute pulmonary hemorrhage, or bleeding in the lungs. Investigators found that the infants had been exposed to homes with major water damage in the six months before they developed the lung damage, and associated with the bleeding with Stachybotrys.

Indeed, there appears to have been an increase in mold-related health effects over the last several years. Researchers theorized in 2007 that it may have something to do with how our modern buildings are built. To save energy, newer buildings typically allow much less ventilation than older buildings, which provides a better environment for mold. When builders take shortcuts, such as with poorly built roofs that can’t shed rain-water or vents that send dryer exhaust back inside the building, they create mold-friendly habitats. The fungi also prefer paper-coated surfaces on modern wallboard to older plaster walls.

Many of the plaintiffs who have filed toxic mold lawsuits claim there was water damage in their apartments, schools, and office buildings which was never repaired, despite repeated requests for help. Building maintenance is a must when it comes to preventing the development of dangerous mold, and in some cases, landlords, owners, and other responsible parties don’t respond as they should to leaks and other water issues.

Whatever the cause, the presence of toxic mold can result in serious health problems. A number of studies have connected the two. In 2003, researchers reported: “Mycotoxins are secondary metabolites produced by microfungi that are capable of causing disease and death in humans and other animals.” In 2008, researchers found that damp building-related illnesses—including respiratory, immunologic, and neurologic symptoms—were associated with toxic black mold (Stachybotrys). They added that laboratory studies had found mycotoxins from this mold to cause inflammation in the lungs.

In a 2014 study review, researchers found that toxic mold could cause health effects like respiratory disease, central and peripheral neurological deficits, chronic fatigue, and more.

Hospitals Facing Mold Problems

As noted earlier, hospitals and medical centers may also expose people to dangerous mold. According to a 2017 article in Becker’s Hospital Review, hospitals have been fighting a war against antibiotic-resistant organisms for some time. Now, however, fungal infections have become part of the problem.

“A lesser-known challenge,” the authors wrote, “is the rise in systemic fungal infections, which are a common cause of hospital-acquired infections and constitute a disproportionate percentage of mortalities in infectious disease.” They added that these fungal infections, like bacterial infections, are becoming resistant to the antifungal therapies that we currently have, which makes them more dangerous and potentially deadly:

“The reality is that fungal infections can be fatal and dangerous, especially systemic, invasive infections that proliferate in the bloodstream and other organs such as the liver, kidney, and lung.” The authors also noted that the CDC shut down the transplant ICU at the UPMC Presbyterian in 2015 to investigate the mold-infection deaths reported at the beginning of this article. They added that there is a need for better diagnostic tools to help identify these pathogens, and that more hospitals need to be aware of the concern of fungal infections.

In a 2009 study, researchers stated that “the hospital environment often contains more biological substances than can be expected in an office or home environment,” adding that flooding or water leaks could result in mold growth that could seriously compromise the health of patients as well as staff.

Types of Toxic Mold Injuries

When a person inhales or is otherwise exposed to mycotoxins from toxic mold, he or she may develop:

  • Allergic-type symptoms: itchy eyes, sneezing
  • Coughing & wheezing
  • Headaches
  • Fever
  • Memory loss
  • Pulmonary hemorrhage or edema
  • Heart inflammation and damage
  • Bleeding in other organs
  • Suppression of the immune system
  • Death

Toxic Mold Lawsuits

In addition to the lawsuits filed against UMPC because of mold-related infections and deaths, many other individuals who have suffered serious illnesses from toxic mold infections have filed lawsuits in an attempt to recover damages.

In 2016, for example, a New Jersey music teacher was awarded about $1.8 million after a judge ruled that her lung problems were caused by toxic mold in her classroom. The teacher had complained about water damage in the room that was not properly repaired, and she was later diagnosed with asthma and other lung conditions.

In April 2016, a Virginia military family was awarded $350,000 in a case they filed against Mid-Atlantic Military Family Communities, claiming that their housing unit was contaminated with toxic mold, which made them sick. The jury agreed that the military housing company was negligent.

The attorneys at Chaffin Luhana are actively investigating potential toxic mold lawsuits. Individuals in the Pittsburgh and Ohio Valley areas who suffered serious injuries because of toxic mold exposure may be able to recover damages in a personal injury lawsuit. Call today for a free case evaluation at 1-888-316-2311.

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according to eric t. chaffin

“My father was a union witness at an arbitration in a steel mill. After the hearing, my father, dressed in blue jeans and a sweatshirt, stuck out his hand to shake hands with the company’s lawyer. The lawyer refused. The lawyer was not upset because my dad got the best of him but because he frowned upon working class people. I was the first person in my family to graduate from college. My dad used this story to remind me to respect others, to remember where I came from and as an example of how not to conduct myself as a lawyer.”

eric t. chaffin

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