$1.5 Million Award in Pleasanton Home Mold Trial

Originally Posted By: bsumpter
This post was automatically imported from our archived forum.

by Ivan Delventhal, Contra Costa Times

OAKLAND - An Alameda County jury has awarded a Pleasanton woman $1.5 million in punitive damages against her homeowner's insurance company, which she accused of mishandled a claim involving a leaky pipe and resulting mold.

Julie Radosevich, 49, won the punitive damage award -- which is intended to punish a wrongdoer and discourage similar conduct in the future -- against Amco Insurance Co. last week at the conclusion of a five-week trial in Oakland. She was also awarded $53,000 in compensatory damages to cover damage to her home and emotional distress caused by the ordeal.

Doug Prutton, Radosevich's attorney, said the case began as a leak in a pipe connected to the water heater in Radosevich's home on Mount McKinley Court in Pleasanton. The burst hot water pipe was discovered in January 2002. It was unclear how long the pipe had been leaking, the attorney said.

When a plumber opened up a wall in her utility room to locate the source of the leak, mold was discovered in the wall cavity and crawl space, Prutton said. Further testing revealed mold spores were in the air throughout the home.

The insurance company, according to Prutton, initially took the position that the claim may not have been covered because the policy had an exclusion that applied to pipe leaks that lasted for "weeks, months, or years" or because of another exclusion relating to standing water under a home.

An attorney for Amco was not available for comment Wednesday.

More than eight months after the pipe leak was discovered, the insurance company paid to clean up the mold in Radosevich's home, Prutton said, but the amount was less than what the contractors had actually charged for the work.

A jury concluded in its deliberations last week that two employees of the insurance company had acted with malice, oppression or fraud in the handling of Radosevich's claim, Prutton said. That finding opened the door to punitive damages in the case.

Prutton said Wednesday that his client felt "vindicated" by the verdicts.

"Her whole goal was to show that this insurance company treated her poorly," the attorney said.

Prutton said he expects Amco attorneys to file a motion with the court seeking a reduction in the punitive damages on the grounds that they are excessive.

"In the fields of observation, chance favors only the mind that is prepared"

Louis Pasteur