Mold at work spawns new class of workers’ comp claim

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in Employee Benefits Program,Human Resources

For the first time in the United States, an employee has successfully won workers’ compensation benefits for mold exposure, even though the industry involved normally has no greater exposure to mold than any other.

Black mold exposure has caused tens of thousands of people to become sick—but most of those cases involve mold growing in people’s homes. Mold exposure litigation has flooded courts nationwide. This North Carolina case is unique because the state court of appeals has now ruled that mold exposure may be covered by workers’ compensation.

Shortly after his auto dealership was remodeled, Steven R. Jones, general manager and minority partner in Steve Jones Auto Group in Aberdeen, began experiencing coughing, burning in his nose and mouth, headaches, lack of energy and memory problems.

The culprit was black mold. The contractor had failed to seal an outside wall properly, which allowed in moisture—and a toxic bloom of mold to grow. Jones and the contractor that botched the remodeling job ultimately settled the matter for $1 million.

But Jones also filed a workers’ compensation claim, saying his symptoms were work-related. The dealership’s workers’ comp carrier countered that car dealerships are no more prone to mold exposure than any other business, so the condition was not work-related.

The North Carolina Court of Appeals ruled that, because Jones’ employment caused a greater exposure to mold-related disease than he would have had if he weren’t employed and because the disease was caused by workplace conditions, his reaction was an occupational disease and covered by workers’ comp.

Note: Don’t be surprised to see more cases like this. Mold-related illness is—literally—a growing problem.

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