Lawsuit filed over mold controversy at WHS
By Sabrina Bates
With signs displaying messages such as “WHS sick of mold” and wearing paper masks over their noses and mouths, about 75 students lined the highway entrance to the school.
A lawsuit has been filed directed toward Weakley County Superintendent of Schools Richard Barber, the Weakley County Board of Education, H&M Construction Inc., Air Quality Professionals and the governing body of Weakley County. According to the lawsuit, a student at WHS has suffered from medical symptoms which included skin, respiratory, sinus and ear infections since November 2004. In 2005, the student reportedly lost all immunity to bacteria or viruses with a white blood cell count ranging from 3.3-4.0.
The civil lawsuit, which was filed in Weakley County Circuit Court Friday afternoon, also claims the Weakley County Board of Education was made aware of the mold concerns at WHS in November 2005.
The WHS student’s family is requesting punitive and compensatory damages, including medical bill costs, attorney fees and court costs in the suit. The plaintiffs are demanding a jury try the issues in the civil suit.
As a result of the alleged mold issues at Westview High School, a former student and his parents have taken a legal course of action and filed suit against several agencies for both punitive and compensatory damages.
Seventeen-year-old Caleb Joost will not finish out his final year at WHS. According to a press release issued by the Joost family attorney, Larry Parrish of Memphis, “The conditions inside the school make it impossible for him to attend class without suffering from illnesses he is now being treated for ... that the mold inside Westview is alleged to have caused.”
Joost’s parents, Richard and Julie, are plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed Friday.
Named in the lawsuit are:
• Richard Barber, individually and in his official capacity as superintendent of Weakley County Schools;
• Weakley County Board of Education as occupant and operator of Westview;
• H&M Construction Inc. for its role in the construction of the public school, including its HVAC equipment;
• Air Quality Professionals, unidentified and as referred to by Weakley County Director of Safe and Drug-Free Schools Lorna Benson;
• Weakley County, as owner of Westview High School.
The suit alleges Joost’s medical conditions have continued since August 2004 and mold exposure has been identified as the cause of his failing health. The lengthy document cites an issue, which stems from an air conditioning unit malfunction that occurred at the school during the summer of 1998. The building was reportedly flooded, which caused mold to build up on walls, ceilings, vent covers, books, chairs, desks, etc., inside WHS.
“Plaintiffs are unaware of any assistance lent by the contractor to the Board to repair the malfunctioning HVAC,” the suit reads. “... board engaged in self-help in an attempt to remedy the conditions inside Westview ... included manual removal of water and observable mold and use of industrial fans inside Westview for a period of weeks.”
It is alleged Westview has experienced mold infestations since the incident in 1998 and Joost has had repeated health issues since he first began as a freshman at the public school. His lawyer cited sinus, ear and skin infections as part of Joost’s medical conditions.
Included in the lawsuit were two affadavits (sworn statements), one from Joost’s doctor, Andrew Campbell, who is a member of the Medical Center for Immune and Toxic Disorders, and the second deposition from Richard Lipsey, who has a PhD in pesticide toxicology.
Campbell describes the extent of Joost’s physical symptoms, which included antibodies of mold in his blood as well as “trichothecins,” a mycotoxin also known as Yellow Rain. Yellow Rain is said to be a nerve agent used by military branches across the world in biological warfare.
The doctor’s deposition also stated Joost has been surgically implanted with a port to allow for his daily intravenous medicine applications. Joost is now described as a young adult who has a compromised immune system and runs the risk of future problems as a result of his alleged long-term exposure to mold spores, according to Campbell.
The deposition given by Lipsey describes the types and amounts of mold colonies allegedly found throughout the building of the public school after tests were performed on samples Lipsey had secured.
According to the toxicologist, some mold colonies found within the school were said to be carcinogenic (cancer-causing) in nature as well as pathogenic. An area of concern was the cafeteria at WHS, which reportedly housed aspergillus fumigatus, described by Lipsey as a “really nasty, very harmful” type of mold. Lipsey advised in the deposition the best way to remediate the “mold infestations” would be to close down the school and have “professionals” come into the building to properly clean up the “colonies of mold.”
Deposition hearings have been scheduled over the next few months for almost 40 more people, ranging from board members to teachers in the lawsuit. It does not state how much in damages the Joosts are seeking, but they have requested the civil case be heard by a jury.