Lacon, IL – A five-year-old lawsuit over a toxic mold-contaminated house standing empty in a lakeside subdivision went to trial this week in Marshall County Circuit Court. Gerald and Caroline Stoddart bought the two-bedroom ranch style house for $68,500 in July 1999, envisioning it as their retirement “dream home.” But shortly after moving in, they discovered the flooring had “soft spots” from rotting wood. By the end of the first year, they quickly evacuated without their cross-contaminated possessions after a series of increasingly specialized inspections found so much deterioration in the home caused by mold originating in a crawl space that experts said it was no longer safe to occupy.
The couple, after suffering from health effects, the deaths of their much-loved pets, irreparable economic hardship, and horrendous emotional trauma had no other alternative but to file suit against the former owner and real estate broker of the inhabitable building.
As many know, mold is a natural occurring phenomenon that gorges off common North American housing materials such as paint, drywall, sheetrock, and wood. In the Stoddart case, “an expert will testify that the mold was eating the house,” said their attorney, David Sigale. Since moving out, the Stoddarts have lived in a series of three rental houses while their planned retirement home stood empty and unlivable. Paying additional rent and mortgage payments added financial stress to their lives. And their beloved St. Bernard dogs they once took on volunteer therapy visits to nursing homes have died from central nervous system disorders caused by the mold. Caroline stated that they suffered from seizures after their exposure. Their veterinarian confirmed that the three dogs were suffering from neurological damage as a result of fungal exposure.
When referring to the loss and suffering of their dogs, Caroline Stoddard testified, “They died as a result of the mold. They died paralyzed.” The Stoddarts, now both 73, originally sued both previous owner Virginia Landers of Chicago and real estate broker Tamela Durham of Lake Wildwood in 1999 for failing to disclose information about the condition. A Marshall County judge originally issued a summary judgment against the couple, but that was eventually overturned by the 3rd District Appellate Court. In the meantime, the former owner died, so the defendants are now Durham and Landers’ estate, administered by her son, Robert Landers of Chicago.
The main complaint in this case, before a jury of seven women and five men, is that Landers, the former owners, and Durham, the realtor, not only failed to disclose information as required by state real estate law, but fraudulently concealed it.
“What the evidence is going to say is that (the defendants) knew it and they did not tell the Stoddarts,” Sigale told the jury. Attorney for the defense, Kleczik, claims that all the information about toxic mold and structural damage was acquired after the Stoddarts bought the house and moved in. He also alleges that there is no evidence of the prior knowledge required to prove fraud. “The real facts of this case hinge on what was known and what occurred before the sale,” he said.
Durham’s attorney, Troy Roberts, claims that the Stoddarts had not ordered an independent home inspection or appraisal, nor were they represented by an attorney, even though their rights to such things were spelled out in the real estate contract. What he failed to explain is that many buyers of homes across America rely on real estate disclosure statements as factual thus reliable and many don?t request inspections and appraisals because they believe that sellers are being honest. What the former owner said on the disclosure and advertisement has not yet been revealed but the presence of failed sump pumps and failure to stop moisture problems in the crawl space was noted. The house will eventually be demolished.
Retirement is meant to be the monumental golden years for couples to enjoy peacefully. The couple state modestly that they only “want their money back” for the house and other minor expenses. Sadly, the Stoddarts, among thousands of other mold victims who have lost their health and homes to toxigenic mold, often realize early on that the death of their precious pets and the years they have lost without the enjoyment of their home, possessions, and health will never be justifiably compensated for.
It is very devastating to be so ill that innocent people abandon their homes and worldly possessions for several years and pay thousands of dollars in legal expenses on a mere chance to seek justice. That is one issue that plagues defense lawyers as they try represent their clients and downplay the unrelenting ramifications of mold and how it destroys lives. Closing arguments are scheduled for today. This story will be updated as the results are obtained.