Jury Solutions, a Virginia consulting firm owned by C.S. Koch, uses mock trials to prepare litigants for their cases. This summary comes from a mold case in new construction, but the insights it offers apply equally to remodeling.

The Situation

An elderly couple commissioned a contractor to build a home for them in a humid climate. The contractor installed the dishwasher incorrectly, causing moisture to settle underneath the floor. Contributing factors were an over-sized air conditioner and vinyl wall covering, installed at the homeowners' insistence.

Prior to the warranty expiring, the couple reported mold in the kitchen. The builder discovered the problem with the dishwasher and fixed it, also replacing the floor and subfloor. Later, however, the homeowners reported further mold problems. The company refused to address them, because the warranty had expired a month earlier and they had advised the couple not to use vinyl wall covering in that climate.

The couple sued, claiming that the builder's negligence resulted in mold growth that made them sick. The builder claimed he had advised the homeowners that the vinyl wall covering and oversized AC unit were unwise choices and had recommended the purchase of a dehumidifier. The builder had given the couple a disclosure statement advising them about mold growth. Finally, the builder claimed that there was no scientific evidence linking mold to serious illness.

The Verdict

The jurors saw the builder as the "expert," and expected him to dissuade the homeowners from making poor decisions. "There's the implication that the party with the greatest amount of expertise will automatically have the greatest amount of responsibility," Koch says. The jury found the builder's actions to be insufficient to this end.

Furthermore, the jurors seemed to feel that customer service was lacking. "For $500,000, you shouldn't need a dehumidifier!" said one.

Finally, many members of the jury seemed to completely neglect information from the Centers for Disease Control that contradicted the plaintiff's argument that mold can cause health problems. Ten jurors awarded the couple money for medical bills.