There have been past complaints of health problems from alleged toxic mold growing
throughout one Bakersfield apartment complex, but never death. Now a Bakersfield
mother says the mold infesting her apartment caused the death of her 2-year-old
daughter. Sixty-eight others have joined the mother in a lawsuit against the
owner of the Coventry Place Apartment complex, claiming mold is making them
and their families ill. Damages sought in the suit have yet to be determined.
After finding lumps on her daughter's head, Jennifer Lair took her daughter
to the hospital. After numerous tests, 11 doctors still couldn't diagnose the
problem. But her daughter's headaches continued, Lair said. The girl was excessively
tired, and her brother's asthma systematically got worse. "Every time my daughter
got sick, my son's asthma acted up," Lair said. "And it always happened when
they came in to knock out a wall of mold."
On Feb. 29, 2004, Lair woke up to find her daughter dead in her bed. Lair
says it was the mold that caused her daughter's death. The coroner, however,
listed the cause of death as "pneumonia with an onset of a few hours." Lair's
lawyer said the county did not use the proper tests on the girl and missed
the fungus. County health officials said each case is given the proper tests
to indicate the accurate cause of death. If there was an indication of fungus,
the county would have found it, said director of disease control Boyce Dulan.
Manco Abbott Real Estate Management runs the Coventry apartments, a government-assisted,
low-income complex. The company's chief operating officer declined to comment
about the alleged mold but said the company is always considering the health
of its tenants. The company's lawyers did not return phone calls.
Residents at the Coventry complex said they have complained on many occasions
about the mold growing on their walls, under their sinks and sometimes on their
belongings. "We have other kids out there that are suffering from pneumonia
and double pneumonia because of the mold and they are scared they are going
to die, too," said the plaintiffs' lawyer, David Poole, of the firm Kahn, Brown
and Poole in Emeryville. "The tenants are all below poverty line and have nowhere
else to go." Toxicology tests taken by a company hired by the plaintiffs allegedly
showed high levels of toxic mold in all 16 units tested. High levels of two
toxic molds allegedly were found in Lair's apartment, where her daughter died.
Allergies, coughing and respiratory problems are common health concerns where
toxic mold is found, but death is rare, county health officials said. Months
after her daughter's death, Lair and her three children were moved to another
unit that showed no signs of mold. Soon, however, the asthma attacks and irritation
returned, she said. "After we moved, it was fine," Lair said. "But now, we
are having problems again. It looks like we are going to have to somehow move." This
is the second move for many of the current residents, who came from the Village
at East Hills complex on Bernard Street, across from East Hills Mall shopping
The 258-unit, 18-building apartment complex was shut down after high levels
of toxic mold were found. The building, which was eventually torn down and
rebuilt, also was managed by Manco Abbott. The family of Steven Reina, a tenant
of East Hills, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the owners and management
company, claiming his fungal infection and death in June 2002 was caused by
moldy conditions in his apartment. Marlene Medina, who formerly worked for
Manco Abbott, experienced firsthand the company's dealings with its tenants.
The former property manager at the Coventry Place Apartments kept a daily journal
of tenant complaints, maintenance problems and her correspondences with the
company's top officials. "The complaints and concerns that I passed along ...
were largely ignored," Medina said. If a settlement is not reached between
the two parties, the Coventry Place case will go to trial in September. "These
environmental deaths are preventable," said Alan Bell, a plaintiff's lawyer
and founder of the Environmental Health Foundation. "(The owners) need to evacuate
the building and put the tenants into a safe environment. That's the ethical
thing to do."
Author:By NADA BEHZIZ, Californian staff writer e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Provided by: Allerair