Eugene, OR – On Saturday afternoon, what was supposed to be the dream house of the O’Hara family will be burned to the ground. Mark and Mary Jane O’Hara believe that the home, off Spencer Creek Road south of Eugene, Oregon, has become contaminated with toxic mold that made them and their two children sick.
As in so many cases, the architect and contractors are at fault for poor workmanship that allowed mold-causing moisture into their house during a major remodeling job in 1998, a charge the architect and contractors naturally deny. The O’Haras are seeking $3.5 million in damages in a lawsuit filed last year in Lane County Circuit Court, with a trial possibly taking place this summer. Many locals have questioned if a fair trial could ever take place in such a place due to the severe alleged mold problem in the Courthouse, another cover-up in the making. Since the courthouse has been struggling with a mold problem of their own, it may be unlikely they will get a fair trial.
The home mold infestation is so great that incinerating the house is the only way to eliminate the health threat and enable the family later to build a new home on their 8-acre property. “It’s shocking to build your dream house and be told that you have to move out because your family is sick,” Mary Jane O’Hara said. It’s not really so strange; if you read the Book of Leviticus in the Bible, burning the house is exactly what was done in Biblical times.
The argument over liability is among several disputes nationwide involving moldy buildings and health problems. Whether the O’Haras will succeed in demonstrating that construction defects caused mold and that the mold harmed their health is far from certain, but most likely probable. Ethical and skilled health experts know how much fungal exposure can cause many severe health complications, but there are several physicians who don’t cut the grade, thus cross over to the so-called unethical side in order to sell out their Hippocratic oaths and make big bucks making false claims, such as the fact stupidious statements that make the public believe mold doesn’t make one sick. Unfortunately there are some people that are ignorant enough to believe these fraudulent claims. Most, however, know the truth and are not gullable enough to believe such outlandish lies.
The O’Haras won’t disclose the type of mold they say contaminated their house. Certainly, however, the O’Haras tell the truth as it paints a grim picture of their life for the past two years.
Before the remodeling got under way, the family moved out of the home. They say their 15-year-old daughter, Katelyn, began to get headaches just before they moved back into the remodeled home in April 1999. They attribute that to the amount of time they spent in the house during the project.
Among other maladies, Mark O’Hara, a 49-year old dentist, and Mary Jane O’Hara, 45, suffered from swollen and painful joints, bloody noses, acid reflux, vomiting, sinus problems, digestive troubles, and chronic fatigue. Besides headaches, Katelyn O’Hara said she was afflicted by respiratory problems. She said she lost 20 pounds in a few months.
Thirteen-year old Kyle also suffered from headaches and profuse nosebleeds. After spending a few minutes in the house last fall dressed in protective gear, he was hospitalized in December with severely inflamed sinuses.
“The emotional drain is beyond description,” said Mark O’Hara. “It’s `Daddy, why can’t I get well?’ ” O’Hara said he tried to determine the cause of his family’s illnesses for several months before turning to Dr. Kraig Jacobson, an allergy specialist in Eugene. Jacobson ordered an environmental test, which turned up evidence of abnormally high concentrations of airborne mold.
Jacobson ordered the O’Haras to leave their home immediately. The O’Haras moved into an apartment in Eugene and said they felt better right away. They eventually bought a smaller home in the Santa Clara area north of Eugene, where they now live. They say they still suffer from various lingering ailments since the toxins produced by these molds can lead to lifelong ailments.
The family has discarded many belongings and mementos, saying they are contaminated and cannot be completely cleaned of mold. They said they put new covers on some of their upholstered furniture and tried to disinfect other possessions. But many of their household items will go up in Saturday’s planned fire.
“It’s losing your home. It’s losing your possessions, and trying to explain things to your children that you don’t have answers to,” said Mary Jane O’Hara.
In their lawsuit, the O’Haras state that architect Michael Cockram of Eugene failed to control the quality of work by general contractor Stangland Construction of Eugene, and that Stangland failed to keep the inside of their home dry during the $290,556 remodeling.
Stangland made other mistakes, the O’Haras state, including failing to make sure the attic was properly ventilated, which contributed to the moisture problem. Also, the lawsuit says that Harvey & Son Inc. of Springfield installed an overly large heating and air conditioning system that contributed to mold growth.
The O’Haras are asking the defendants to pay a combined $3.5 million in damages, plus attorneys fees. The damage claim includes $2 million sought for the O’Haras’ “physical impairment, suffering and mental distress,” and $800,000 for the expense of demolishing and rebuilding their home.
The O’Haras’ homeowners insurance fails to cover mold damage, as most have, due to the devastating health problems it causes. Mark O’Hara said that he will not be able to rebuild unless he wins the lawsuit or receives a settlement. The defendants’ attorneys said their clients will be vindicated at trial, if it comes to that.
“It’s a highly contested issue,” Stangland’s attorney, Robert Lowry, claimed. “There is tremendous factual doubt on what (the O’Haras) allege.”
Cockram’s attorney, Lann Leslie, said that it is unfortunate that the O’Haras may have suffered from a moldy house, but his client is not responsible. Cockram’s design work “was exemplary and it did not cause the mold that the O’Haras complain of,” Leslie claimed.
Eric Winters, attorney for Harvey & Son, said his client denies the O’Haras’ claims and “is looking forward to defending itself at trial.” The fire will destroy the house and any evidence in it, but attorneys for both sides already have collected samples from the structure and had videotapes made for their respective cases. Inside and out, the house is a wreck.
Aside from damage made by investigators, it also has been used by firefighters practicing how to break down walls and doors. On Saturday, Mark O’Hara and Katelyn plan to watch Lane County Fire District No. 1 burn the house in a training exercise. Mary Jane O’Hara said she can’t bear to watch firefighters burn the house that she raised her children in for 10 years. “I just feel like the last few years that I had planned to enjoy with my children have been taken away,” she said.
About a year after the O’Haras settled their case they are truly changed people. Not in the sense that they have won a small award or gained anything important. They feel a grand sense of loss as they watch their son hopelessly struggle with permanent neurological damage, the constant headaches and chronic eustachian tube infections. Mary Jane, whom I have befriended, tells me that she has taken her son to many physicians and nothing seems to be helping him. He will never be a totally healthy person.
Mark and Mary Jane are very spiritual people and one can just see by meeting them that this faith in the almighty is what has kept them going all this time, even during their darkest hours.
Mark was at my house about a year ago. He looked very healthy and strong. I recently heard he came in contact with some toxic mold and just out of the blue had a sudden, serious heart attack and will never be the same.
In these types of cases, believe me, there never is a real winner. . . Never.