HARLAN TOWNSHIP – In 1998 Dale Fry was an energetic landscape subcontractor with a healthy young family moving into a new Warren County home. Soon afterward, Mr. Fry, a nonsmoker with no history of respiratory problems, began suffering from chronic coughing, shortness of breath, headaches and dizziness. His four children, ages 2 to 8, later developed asthma.
Puzzled and then frightened, Mr. Fry began to suspect it was the new house – a 1,800-square-foot, manufactured home with three bedrooms and two baths – that was making his family sick. He is suing the manufacturer, and his case one of the latest in a growing number of national lawsuits alleging toxic mold.
The Texas Department of Insurance reported last month that mold damage claims there increased 600 percent in 2001, generating more than $850 million in insurer losses. Though neither the Ohio Department of Insurance nor the Ohio Insurance Institute have complied statistics on toxic mold litigation, an official with the Ohio Academy of Trial Lawyers said the number of cases is increasing.
Mr. Fry’s attorney, Robert Trainor of Covington, specializes in mold litigation in Greater Cincinnati and said his practice has increased from one case in 1999 to more than 100 clients this year. About 40 clients have toxic mold lawsuits in the courts.
Last month Butler County health officials and West Chester housing officials said there may be potentially toxic mold in some of 492 apartments in the Woodbridge on the Lake complex off Cincinnati-Dayton Road. Owners of the property say they are removing all mold and that the complex’s 1,000-plus residents are not in danger. While thousands of harmless molds exist in nature and within human-made structures, a handful are considered toxic to humans.
Mr. Fry suspects plumbing leaks fed a growing colony of toxic mold. The family, he said, was forced to abandon their home, leaving behind most of their possessions for fear of contamination. The 34-year-old’s ailments have worsened to the point of coughing up blood.
Now on disability, Mr. Fry struggles to support his family while enduring constant medical tests. Doctors now are discussing the possibility of a lung transplant. In February Mr. Fry sued the Elkhart, Ind., manufacturer of his home – Skyline Corp – and Ohio-based Elsea Inc., which performed warranty work on the home, for more than $1 million in Warren County Common Pleas Court.He claimed their negligence created toxic mold that has overtaken his family’s home, health and lives. “It was a beautiful home. It was supposed to be my family’s castle, but it turned into a complete nightmare,” he said. Officials from both Skyline and Elsea declined to comment, but both have filed responses in the Warren County court rebutting the accusations and claiming negligence on Mr. Fry’s part.
According to an October 2001 report by industrial hygienist Michael Crandall, two of the most dangerous toxic molds – Aspergillus and Penicillium – were found at high levels in the Fry’s house. Mr. Crandall also stated that water damage from a shower leak fed the toxic mold infestation. Mr. Fry’s doctor, Robert Baughman of the Interstitial Lung and Sarcoidosis Clinic at Cincinnati’s Barrett Cancer Center, continues testing and treating Mr. Fry. He will soon begin cytoxin therapy – a type of chemotherapy – to fight the growing inflammation in his lungs.
Mr. Fry said a successful lawsuit would be only a partial victory. “There is no way to get my health back, and it’s not me I’m most worried about but my kids, who are sick from this, too,” he said.