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September 10, 2001-150 families sue apartment complex


Marisol Vargas has been battling an unwelcome guest in her Kips Bay apartment for years, and she's at her wit's end on how to banish the intruder. Like dozens of neighbors at the Henry Phipps Plaza housing complex, Vargas' home is under siege by black, hairy mold. It has worked its way relentlessly through her kitchen and bathroom vents, and spread like a dark shadow under the paint on her bathroom ceiling. "No matter how much I paint over it, it keeps coming back. I'm afraid of it," said Vargas, 39. She blames the mold for numerous family health problems, including her own memory loss and severe asthma in her four children, ages 10 to 16.

Neighbors have suffered even worse. Just last week, Mattie Quaily, who also lives at Phipps, charged in a $65 million lawsuit that her daughter was killed by poisonous mold. "A lot of people are really getting sick. It's outrageous," Vargas said. In all, more than 150 families have sued the management of the 404-unit federally subsidized complex, which has a 33-story and 13-story building.

Besides Quaily, at least four other families are suing over the alleged wrongful deaths of loved ones. After years of legal wrangling, the first of the civil suits is finally going to trial in a combined case in Manhattan Supreme Court, with jury selection to begin as early as tomorrow. The problem of toxic mold has gained nationwide attention lately, especially after a Texas jury awarded a family $32 million in damages in June. The family sued its insurance company for failing to repair water leaks that could have prevented the spread of molds, including one called stachybotrys, a type also found in the Phipps complex.

But the combined size of the lawsuits at the Phipps houses dwarfs even the Texas case. According to court documents, there are nearly 500 tenants suing Phipps for damages exceeding $12 billion. Justice Louise Gruner-Gans will preside over a trial that consolidates seven cases and could quickly determine the outcome of the remaining lawsuits. The attorney for the plaintiffs, and James Davies, one of the lawyers representing Phipps, declined to discuss the case after Gruner-Gans issued a gag order last week. But in court documents, the plaintiffs have accused the management of ignoring numerous pleas from tenants to stamp out the mold infestation. Lawyers for Phipps have denied any wrongdoing and accused the plaintiffs of making "sweeping, ill-defined allegations," the court papers show. They also challenged claims that the mold is responsible for the tenants' health complaints, including headaches, nosebleeds, chronic fatigue, respiratory problems and, in the case of Quaily's daughter, Lorraine Woods, death at age 58 in October 1998.

Experts say the clinical research on the toxic effects of molds like stachybotrys is not conclusive, but doctors are getting a growing number of complaints about mold-related health problems, especially among people with weakened immune systems.

That is what worries Pearl Borst, 75, who had open-heart surgery 16 months ago after suffering chest pains - a condition she blames on the black mold in her apartment. "My family had no history of heart problems," said Borst, who diligently covers the towels on her bathroom shelf with plastic sheets to ward off mold dust. She also covers the vents in her kitchen and bathroom with paper towels. Borst, who lives in a subsidized, two-bedroom apartment with her 92-year-old ex-Marine husband, Eugene, said they did not file a lawsuit against management because "we're afraid we'll get kicked out."

In all Sick Building Syndrome cases it is essential that measures be taken promptly to preserve evidence, investigate the incident in question, and to enable physicians or other expert witnesses to thoroughly evaluate any injuries. If you or a loved one is a victim of injury as a result of exposure to toxic mold, call now at or CLICK HERE TO SUBMIT A CASE FORM. The initial consultation is free of charge, and if we agree to accept your case, we will work on a contingent fee basis, which means we get paid for our services only if there is a monetary award or recovery of funds. Don't delay! You may have a valid claim and be entitled to compensation for your injuries, but a lawsuit must be filed before the statute of limitations expires.

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