New bill takes aim at mold insurance rules

MIDDLEBURY — A former Bristol resident is urging the state Legislature to pass a new law that would require property and casualty insurers to provide coverage for mold-related damage in homes.
At issue is bill S.229, introduced this year on behalf of Brenda Shores, who rented a basement apartment on Mountain Street in Bristol from 2006-2007. During her tenancy, she said mold took over the apartment, creeping into the walls and eventually into her clothing and furniture.
“It was so bad — not even livable conditions,” said Shores. The 41-year-old woman still suffers lingering effects from a head injury sustained in a car accident when she was 19, and therefore has been living on Social Security income and receives a federal housing subsidy.
Shores said she filed legal actions in Addison County Small Claims and Superior Courts in efforts to receive compensation for the mold-related damage to her property. She said she was unsuccessful in those efforts and was told she had not adequately proved her case. Shores learned through the process that current insurance rules do not cover mold damage unless that damage is precipitated by a significant occurrence — like a major storm or bursting pipes, for example.
Jim Sullivan, president and CEO of Middlebury-based Cooperative Insurance Cos., noted that the industry differentiates between damage resulting from catastrophic events, versus maintenance issues.
“The insurance industry comes at it from the point of view that naturally occurring mold is part of maintenance,” Sullivan said. “As a naturally occurring phenomenon, it’s not covered.”
Sullivan (who is not involved with the Shores case) said S.229, if passed into law, would present some challenges for insurers when it comes to mold cases.
“I would hate to have to figure out how to underwrite it or cover it,” he said.
Sen. Harold Giard, D-Bridport, who introduced S.229, believes that insurance laws should be adjusted to compel companies to provide coverage for mold damage, even if that mold is not necessarily caused by a catastrophe.
“Brenda’s case is as gross a violation of anything I’ve been called in on,” Giard, said, alluding to photos he’s seen of her living space.
Shores has since relocated to an apartment in Middlebury. She hopes the Legislature will act favorably on S.229.
“Brenda knows this will not help her, but it could help other people,” Giard said.

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