The Law In Maryland Does Not Recognize A Scientifically Established Causal Connection Between Exposure To Conditions In Water Damaged Buildings and Human Illness

I frequently receive questions about illnesses related to exposure to microbial growth and other conditions in water damaged buildings, and whether such medical conditions can form the basis of a personal injury claim.  Molds, of course, are generally recognized as allergens that can trigger respiratory symptoms in certain individuals.  For that reason, mold in buildings is considered an environmental issue that requires proper remediation.  Moreover, mold damages building components if left unaddressed.  However, repairs needed to remediate a water damaged building, and proof of a causal connection between exposure to specific molds and a particular symptom in an individual, are very different matters.   In the case of Montgomery Mutual Insurance Co. v. Chesson, , 206 Md.App. 569 (2012), the Maryland Court of Special Appeals found “that there is a genuine controversy within the scientific community with regard to whether exposure to water damaged buildings causes human health effects.”  As a result of the Court’s determination that “there is no consensus in the relevant scientific community that exposure to mold causes” medical injury, the testimony of a physician that mold exposure had caused illness was deemed to be inadmissible.

In the Chesson case, five employees of the Baltimore Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church had complained of an odor emanating from the walls of their workplace.  An investigation found two types of mold in the walls — Aspergillus and Stachybotrys.  The employees filed claims with the Maryland Worker’s Compensation Commission, alleging medical injury as a result of “sick building syndrome.”  The Commission found that three of the five employees had suffered medical injury as result of exposure to mold, and awarded compensation.  The employer and its insurer took an appeal to the Circuit Court for Howard County, which initially held that testimony showing a causal connection between the mold exposure and the claimed illnesses would be admitted.  The employer and its insurer then took an appeal to the Court of Special Appeals, asserting that, before admitting the testimony, the Circuit Court should have held what is known as a Frye-Reed hearing, at which it is determined whether certain expert testimony will be admissible at trial where there is a question as to whether the evidence is generally accepted in the scientific community.

The Court of Special Appeals, in Montgomery Mutual Insurance Co. v. Chesson, 170 Md. App. 551 (2006), ruled that a Frye-Reed hearing was not necessary.   However, the Court of Appeals granted a petition for certiorari, and reversed the ruling, finding that a Frye-Reed hearing should have been held to determine if the medical community generally accepts the theory that mold exposure causes human illness, and whether the testifying physician’s method of diagnosis was proper.  396 Md. 12 (2006).

As a result, the Circuit Court for Howard County conducted a Frye-Reed hearing, after which it ruled that the testimony regarding a causal connection between the mold exposure and the employees’ illnesses was admissible.  The employer and its insurer then took a second appeal to the Court of Special Appeals, which reversed the decision of the Circuit Court, finding that “because there are sources that support and oppose [the testifying physician’s] theories and methodologies, and at least one that recognizes the relevant scientific field is undecided, we must conclude that [the testifying physician’s] theories and methodologies with regard to exposure to water damaged buildings, and the human health effects suffered by the [employees], are not generally accepted in the relevant scientific community.