Mold suit ends in failure
The rules in Texas prevent the type of settlement reached in California from happening here. The Dentlers at the most would have been entitled to $250,000 in pain and suffering costs and actual costs. Their last petition was actually for $750,000, which included $110,000 for contents, $240,000 to rebuild the house, $70,000 to replace losses from paying two mortgages at once because the family moved due to mold damage and $330,000 for attorney fees. Insurance companies eventually paid $70,000 for damages, which was a quarter of what was requested, and $7,000 of that went to a public adjuster, Peggy Dentler said.
Mold suit ends in failure
By: Burton Speakman, Courier staff
Peggy Dentler and her husband Ronald moved into a home in Oak Ridge North at 26922 Maplewood in 1998 that previously had flood damage.
After living in the home four months, it flooded. When filing their insurance claim, they discovered the home had flooded several times previously, Peggy Dentler said. The couple sued the previous owner for not disclosing the history.
During depositions, a lawyer asked them about health problems.
The family had made 43 visits to the doctor within an 18-month period while living in the home. The health problems primarily stemmed from upper respiratory issues, bronchitis, strange rashes, nosebleeds, shingles, ear infections and scarlet fever.
During the time after flooding, Peggy Dentler was pregnant with triplets and lost two of the fetuses. They also had a family pet die with a "softball-sized" tumor removed during an autopsy from the 8-pound, 9-ounce puppy, she said.
The tumor tested positive for Aspergillus Penicillium, the same form of mold that was found in the home.
Medical records could not determine what killed the two fetuses, Peggy Dentler said.
"But I feel in my heart the mold killed them, and that's when we got out of the house because I was worried about losing Hope (the remaining triplet)."
At that time, Peggy was seeing specialists in Houston several times a week, she said.
The California family claimed toxic mold in their home caused brain damage in their baby and sued the lumber company and 16 other defendants.
They claimed their son became sick because of mold on framing studs that had been improperly stored by the lumber company, which agreed to pay $13 million of the settlement that was reached Oct. 19. The studs were used in the custom-built Manhattan Beach home the family lived in for about two years beginning in 1999.
Kellen, now 5, functions as a 1 1/2-year-old and needs 24-hour care.
Raymond P. Boucher, president of the Consumer Attorneys Association of Los Angeles, said the Oct. 19 settlement was the largest in the country for a mold case involving a single-family home. None the defendants admitted liability.
The majority of the settlement in the California case was designed to cover expenses of the son, who doctors said suffered brain damage from exposure to mold.
In the Dentlers' case, Judge Kathleen Hamilton, of the 359th state District Court, ruled the family could not mention that flooding had caused mold in the house and their medical records were not admissible during the trial.
"We could not mention insurance," Ronald Dentler said. "The trial was limited to talking about one flood event; we couldn't even mention mold.
"She (Hamilton) took away so much of our case, we couldn't win."
The case was appealed once in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals after being bumped from the Ninth Circuit Court, which had too many cases at the time. The Dentlers prevailed based on an affidavit in which the seller said they didn't word their own home disclosure, Ronald Dentler said.
"Hamilton ruled that document was inadmissible," he said.
The rules in Texas prevent the type of settlement reached in California from happening here. The Dentlers at the most would have been entitled to $250,000 in pain and suffering costs and actual costs. Their last petition was actually for $750,000, which included $110,000 for contents, $240,000 to rebuild the house, $70,000 to replace losses from paying two mortgages at once because the family moved due to mold damage and $330,000 for attorney fees.
Insurance companies eventually paid $70,000 for damages, which was a quarter of what was requested, and $7,000 of that went to a public adjuster, Peggy Dentler said.
The medical community is divided over the potential health damage that can be caused by mold.
The Centers for Disease Control doesn't utilize the term toxic mold in documents and only officially states that some molds can be toxic to some people.
"These case reports are rare, and a casual link between the presence of toxic mold and these conditions has not been proven," according to the CDC Web site.
Divergent medical opinions don't provide solace to the Dentlers, who are convinced 4-year-old Hope has been affected by her exposure to mold.
"She's had several allergies since she was born," Peggy Dentler said.
"She's allergic to everything. She has to take two pills a day just to have allergic reaction," Ronald Dentler said. "No one else in my family is like that."
The Dentlers' attorney is still considering another appeal in the Ninth Circuit court, Ronald Dentler said. "But we've run out of money."
Reports from ABC News contributed to this story.
Burton Speakman can be reached at
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