CT Teachers out on WC due to Alleged Mold Exposure

Bruce Burk

Stamford, CT (WorkersCompensation.com) – Mold exposure is no laughing matter. In fact, some research links exposure to certain kinds of mold to the development of cancer. One new mold exposure is reminding us of the dangers of workplaces with mold.

Approximately 100 teachers and other educational staff in Stamford, Conn., have been exposed to mold at six different public schools. Teachers and staff from Westhill, Westover Magnet Elementary School, Newfield, K.T. Murphy, Hart Magnet and Northeast elementary schools have filed workers’ compensation claims based on illness due to mold.

Many of the teachers are now receiving treatment from specialists. Some teachers began to notice their health declining while others started to notice discolored areas on the walls on some of the school properties. Some of the schools have been closed down entirely and at least 23 of the teachers have had to take time off to deal with the symptoms.

It is unknown at this time whether these claims will be accepted or denied. Proving an exposure to mold case has its challenges. The schools would be right to take precautions to not future expose these educators to mold.
Mold infestations are caused by having high humidity as well as water leaks. The most common causes are leaky pipes indoors. This causes condensation to form on the ceilings and walls where the conditions for mold to grow are plentiful.

Proving a mold exposure claim can be difficult. The first issue is that you have to show a scientific test of the conditions in the air at the scene of the employment. This can be done with an instrument placed at the location of the alleged mold infestation. Then, you would need scientific and medical testimony about the results of the test at trial.

When you are dealing with a mold claim, the type of injury is typically asthma, sinus infection, or other upper respiratory conditions. These typically need to be treated by either an allergist, a pulmonologist, or both. Under Sec. 31-294f of the Connecticut Workers’ Compensation Act, the employer/carrier gets to select the doctor or doctors who will treat the claimant.

Next, it is not uncommon in mold exposure claims for the employer/carrier to seek a request for entry upon land to inspect the claimant’s living space. If it can be demonstrated that there is mold or some other form of toxic element than that could be blamed for some or all of the claimant’s condition. This would also include scientific testing such as sampling the air, taking photographs, and swabbing surfaces.

The employer/carrier also needs to do a thorough deposition of the claimant including asking them about their full work history. If the claimant was exposed to mold or other substances at other employers, then the claimant’s condition could be blamed in whole or in part on another employer/carrier.

Even if the mold exposure at the claimant’s employment cannot be demonstrated to be the main cause or more than 50% of the cause of the claimant’s condition, the claimant may be able to prove their case by demonstrating that the employment caused an aggravation or exacerbation of a pre-existing condition. Here, there should be an investigation into whether the claimant has treated for respiratory conditions in the past.
Removing mold is not an easy task. In fact it takes professional companies and could shut down a business for weeks. That is because the mold can seep into the walls and vents.

This is why the parties should also look into whether the employer had any recent construction done. If it was a third party who is responsible for the mold conditions on the premises, then subrogation could be available in the case.
The downside of denying any of the teachers’ workers’ compensation claims would be to expose the employer to suit in civil court under tort law. This is typically less ideal than having the claim be under workers’ compensation because the bills are typically paid according to a fee schedule.

We will continue to monitor this story. Hopefully, these teachers and other school officials will be able to return to work in a mold-free environment as soon as possible.

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