SUFFOLK – January 24, 2009 (Virginia Pilot) -- A jury awarded a verdict of less than $500,000 on Friday to a plaintiff who had asked for nearly $5 million after having had a home damaged by mold as a result of rains from Hurricane Isabel.
After 11 days of testimony - some from witnesses with national reputations as mold experts - the trial may go down in Suffolk courts history as the longest and most intense, Circuit Judge Carl Eason said at the after-hours conclusion.
Sandra Grant, a homeowner in the rural Whaleyville section of the city, was at home with four children when the hurricane struck in September 2003. The violent storm uprooted and ripped down trees, flooded homes and buildings, tore down power lines and disrupted electricity for weeks.
At Grant's home, in the 1300 block of Freeman Mill Road, the winds ripped off part of the roof and broke out a window. Grant said she called the insurance company a few days after the storm.
The insurance company, Augusta Mutual of Staunton, didn't record her call until the end of the month. The company, witnesses said, got almost 2,000 claims from the storm, when their typical year results in less than that number.
After an independent adjustor was hired, he showed up to assess the damage a month later.
Soon, mold moved in. Before the house was condemned and Grant's family was ordered out, stachybotrys, a particularly vicious type of mold, was growing on the walls and ceilings in greasy, black blotches.
Grant, a single mother, sued the insurance company for damage to the house and for health claims concerning her youngest daughter, 16 at the time, and her son, several years younger and autistic.
In closing arguments Friday, David S. Bailey of Richmond described his client as a loving, conscientious mother who, before the storm, had her son in such a structured environment that he was functioning without medication. Now, he said, the boy is on four different medications and continues to have headaches, stomach aches and other medical problems.
Terrence L. Graves, representing the insurance company, said Grant failed to report the claim on time, failed to properly repair the roof and refused to accept checks the insurance company offered.