Mold Endangers Children’s Health; A Mother’s Dream
When Michelle Harless finally scraped up the money for her first house, she thought she was prepared for the rigors of home ownership. But within months, her Glendale dream home became her worst nightmare, the stuff of that nightmare: mold fed by a leaky pipe.
Four months after moving into the three-bedroom house, Harless’s 7-year-old son, Thomas Fuller, who suffers from cystic fibrosis, had to be hospitalized. Two months later, he was hospitalized again. Doctors said Thomas had lost 33 percent of his lung function because of a common but sometimes toxic mold, called aspergillus.
"When it came back aspergillus we were blown away," said Harless, 26. Her 2-year-old son, James Hatley, wasn’t immune, either. He lost his appetite, developed red, cracked skin and began coughing and sniffling. Doctors thought he was suffering from seizures. Harless knew otherwise: It was aspergillus mold.
Then, she said, things went from bad to worse. Harless’s insurance company told her that her policy didn’t cover mold infestation. "I thought I did everything right," she said, "I had a home inspection. I had homeowners insurance, I had a home warranty. But it’s a nightmare."
For weeks, Harless tried to convince the company that the mold was caused by a leaky pipe, which was covered under her policy. But the company stood firm. and despite her son’s health problems, the company refused to reimburse the family for moving into an apartment, she said, or to pay to clean up the mold that had by now permeated the home.
"I felt trapped," Harless said. "Mold affects healthy people, but for my son it was a life-and-death matter."
The insurance carrier, Century National Insurance Co., declined to comment on Harless’s claims. It was only when an insurance adjuster put up the money that Harless and her family were able to move into a nearby apartment. Soon, both children’s health improved, although Thomas’s lungs remain permanently damaged, she said. Harless and her husband continue to make payments on the $91,000 home while they wait to see whether their insurance company will pay for repairs. the firm has sent inspectors to examine the home and recently offered to work out a settlement.