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April 6 2006 - Award bumped to more than $1 million in toxic mold case

Two families who rented a La Mesa, San Diego duplex and later sued the landlord saying they were exposed to toxic mold are entitled to more than $1 million in damages, a judge has determined.

The families contended that improper drainage on the property on Cypress Drive caused mold to grow inside the external walls, causing members of both families, including their children, to become sick.

Last month, a San Diego Superior Court jury found that the property's landlord, Frank Morgan, was negligent and owed the families more than $874,300 to cover past and future medical bills, property damage and pain and suffering.

In a judgment issued Tuesday, Judge Steven Denton increased that amount to more than $1,026,500 to cover attorneys fees and other legal costs.

Jeff LaFave, the lawyer for the families, explained in a telephone interview yesterday that the duplex was situated on a “negative slope,” meaning that water would typically drain toward the house rather than away from it.

LaFave said experts testified during a trial lasting four and a half weeks that there was evidence of long-term moisture damage under the duplex, such as salt deposits, rust and mud. Mold accumulated in the exterior walls but not in the dividing walls inside the house, suggesting that the problem was caused by poor drainage rather than poor housekeeping, the attorney said.

LaFave said the families could see the mold inside the house and were bothered by a “musty smell.” All seven people who lived in the duplex, three adults and four children, suffered respiratory problems they attribute to the mold, LaFave said.

Steve and Susan Deleon, and their two young daughters had lived in the duplex since 2002. Christine Friel and her two daughters moved in during the summer of 2004.

Both families moved out in January 2005.

Gregory Konoske, the lawyer for the landlord, said in a telephone interview that his client would not appeal the case because it had been settled, but did not elaborate.

LaFave said both sides agreed to the amount determined by the judge and the defendant agreed not to appeal.

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