US Federal Lawsuit Over Suppression of Knowledge of Mould: Plaintiffs Ahead
A trial over mold in a military housing complex in Norfolk kicked off this week in federal court with a win for the plaintiffs.
U.S. District Judge Raymond Jackson ruled Wednesday the complex’s attorneys failed to provide potentially damning evidence to the plaintiffs in a timely fashion. And as punishment, he said, the defense attorneys must stipulate at trial that there was mold in the property while a Marine and his family lived there and that remediation was required.
Jackson also ruled Mid-Atlantic Military Family Communities – a subsidiary of Lincoln Military Housing – can’t claim the family was partially to blame.
Stephen Smith, an attorney for the family, and Michael Firestein, an attorney for the complex, declined Thursday to comment on the case and sanctions.
Gunnery Sgt. Joe Federico and his family filed the lawsuit in 2012 after moving out of the Norwich Manor complex in Norfolk the year before. The lawsuit, which seeks in excess of $10 million in damages, blames mold at the complex for a host of illnesses.
Among other things, the lawsuit claims, the mold caused the family to suffer permanent brain damage .
It was a long and contentious road to trial, with attorneys for the family and the complex repeatedly seeking – and occasionally receiving – sanctions against the other.
Jackson, who was assigned to the case in January, handed down the most recent sanctions after Smith complained the defense was withholding documents. During a March 24 hearing, the judge ordered the defendants to turn over any subpoenaed documents they hadn’t given before the commencement of this week’s trial.
Two days before the trial was set to start, the defendants provided the family’s legal team with numerous documents that indicated the presence of mold in the Federicos’ former home while they lived there and after they moved out. Attorneys for the complex told the court the documents were not provided sooner because they were improperly labeled, according to court documents.
The judge still ordered the sanctions. He said that the defense attorneys acted in “bad faith” and that their actions represented “egregious misconduct.”
The case was previously set to go to trial in January, but the two sides were unable to seat a jury without dispute, and U.S. District Judge Robert Doumar declared a mistrial.
Shortly thereafter, Doumar dropped out of the case in part because “the relationship between the court and counsel for both parties had been irreparably harmed.”
“The court has witnessed excessive animosity between the parties and frequent accusations of inappropriate tactics or actions,” Doumar wrote. “In addition, the court has felt that it was misled, either inadvertently or advertently, at various times throughout the proceedings.”
Smith tried in 2014 to bring several other families into the lawsuit, but Doumar nixed the effort.
The ruling means additional trials involving other former tenants are possible, according to a spokesman for the family’s attorneys.