BELLEVUE – When they gutted Brian’s home, they broke the mold.
It was everywhere, they said. And it was toxic.
So everything had to go. The furniture. The clothes. Even the kitchen sink.
But more than three months later, Polly Carter, Brian’s mother, is wondering if her insurance company will cover any of the costs, estimated at $123,000.
“How am I going to deal with this?” Carter said recently as she stood in the middle of the home where her son, 45, used to live in the 800 block of 165th Avenue Northeast.
Brian is mentally ill. He suffers from schizophrenia and has been living in a hotel room since his home was cleaned out.
Hartford Financial Services Group was covering the hotel cost until a few weeks ago, Carter said. But the Connecticut-based insurer told Carter in March that it would cease any payments until it is finished investigating her claim. Hartford would not release any details of the case, saying only in a statement that Carter has been interviewed “and we are awaiting documentation that we asked for so that we can resolve this claim.”
Carter’s other son, who lives in California, has been helping his mother pay for Brian’s hotel room. Carter, who suffers from a heart condition and had a stroke last fall, said she doesn’t have the means to care for Brian, who has a state caregiver and whose illness sometimes requires hospitalization. She also lives in Bellevue, about three miles from her son’s home.
Brian was in the hospital in December when his mother discovered the strange, watery brown substance all over the floors in the home. Cases of toxic mold and disputes — including lawsuits — with insurance companies over recouping the costs associated with the potentially lethal fungus have popped up all over the country in recent years.
Just last month, entertainer Ed McMahon filed a $20 million lawsuit against his insurance company alleging he was sickened by toxic mold that spread through his Beverly Hills house after contractors cleaning up water damage from a broken pipe botched the job.
Last year, Farmers Insurance Group lost a $32 million lawsuit filed by a Texas family that claimed toxic mold in their home caused severe health problems.
In Washington, toxic mold cases and related insurance problems have been few and far between, said Mike Kriedler, Washington State Insurance Commissioner.
“I keep hearing about toxic mold in schools, but we haven’t had many problems with homeowners’ insurance policies,” he said.
However, Kriedler’s office has received 21 toxic-mold-related phone calls in the past year, he said.
But if someone is having a problem with their insurance company, they should call his office, Kriedler said. “We recover millions of dollars for people,” he said.
Carter’s problem started last summer when a pipe was discovered leaking in the bathroom of her son’s home. A plumber fixed the leak, Carter said. Everything was fine until the discovery in late December. No one had been in the home for two weeks, Carter said.
Carter called Hartford, which sent an insurance adjuster out to the home, she said. She was told not to go inside the home without wearing a respirator. In January, an entourage came to her home. It included representatives from Belfor, an insurance restoration and reconstruction contractor, and Argus Pacific, a Seattle-based industrial hygiene company.
Argus said the substance was toxic mold. Belfor, recommended by Hartford, did the clean-up work, Carter said. After receiving word from Hartford in March that the hotel payments would stop and the claim would be investigated further, Carter was called by Hartford’s attorney, Lane, Powell, Spears & Lubersky of Seattle. She spent several hours there on two occasions being interviewed.
Tim Graham, the attorney who questioned Carter, did not return calls seeking comment. Carter has hired an attorney who also declined to be interviewed.
David Williams, a health and environmental investigator with Public Health — Seattle & King County, said there are lots of different kinds of toxic mold, the most common being stachybotrys.
“I have not seen any evidence that people have died of mold exposure or become gravely ill,” said Williams, who often advises people to clean up toxic mold, but not to move out of their homes or destroy all their property.
Carter said she does not know how she would pay for the work already done on the home if her insurance does not cover it.
The bill for gutting the home is $45,000. It would cost about another $35,000 to restore it. Throw in the lost contents of the home, and the total bill comes to about $123,000, she said.
“You want to hear the real kicker?” Carter said last week. “I just got my renewal from Hartford yesterday. They haven’t raised my rates.”
If you are from Washington state and think you might have a problem with toxic mold in your home, call Public Health — Seattle & King County at 206-205-4394. If you have a question or are involved in a dispute with your insurance company, call the Washington State Insurance Commission at 1-800-562-6900 or check its Web site at www.insurance.wa.gov