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Mom can’t receive damages based on daughter’s injuries caused by mold

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The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed a compensatory damage award of $20,000 to the parents of an adult daughter who was sickened by mold growing in her apartment after finding the facts of the case don’t support the amount awarded.

Brittany Murphy and her father, Kendall Murphy, signed a lease for Brittany Murphy to live in an apartment in Marshall County while she attended Ancilla College and played basketball for the school. Her friend, Jay Frazier, also enrolled in the school and they decided to live together, although Frazier did not pay any rent or sign the lease. Brittany Murphy paid rent with the help of her parents.

The two leased an apartment that is below-grade and requires a dehumidifier to remove moisture. The lease includes a mold clause that says Hi-Tec as lessor had no personal responsibility for personal injury or property damages as a result of mold and the lessees agreed to save harmless Hi-Tech for personal injury, suffering, etc.

After living in the apartment for a few weeks, Brittany Murphy and Frazier became ill and their asthma was aggravated. Brittany Murphy even had trouble playing basketball. They discovered mold and contacted Hi-Tec. The company moved them into an above-grade apartment.

Brittany Murphy; her parents, Kendall and Lorie Murphy; and Jay Frazier sued Hi-Tec alleging negligence, fraud and breach of contract. They alleged the company knew the apartment had previous issues with mold when renting it to Brittany Murphy and Frazier. The trial court ruled the exculpatory clause contained in the lease immunizing the company against liability for injuries caused by mold was void as against public policy. The jury found Hi-Tech 100 percent at fault and awarded Brittany Murphy and her parents $10,000 each in compensatory damages and $15,000 in punitive damages for Brittany Murphy. Frazier received no compensatory damages.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s finding that the exculpatory clause was void, noting the clause is inconsistent with common-law principles of tort law that a landlord may be held liable for personal injuries caused by latent defects known to the landlord but unknown to the tenant and which the landlord fails to disclose.

The judges affirmed the amount of damages awarded to Brittany Murphy, but reversed the amount her parents are entitled to receive. Kendall Murphy is only entitled to $2,360, the amount he paid in rent to Hi-Tec on the apartment. And there’s no evidence that Kendall and Lorie suffered any damages as a result of Hi-Tech’s alleged fraud or negligence. Lorie Murphy did not sign the lease and did not live there, so she is not entitled to any damages.

The case, Hi-Tec Properties, LLC v. Brittany Murphy, Kendall Murphy, Lorie Murphy, and Jay Frazier, 50A05-1401-CT-14, is remanded for further proceedings.

 

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  1. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  2. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  3. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

  4. When I hear 'Juvenile Lawyer' I think of an attorney helping a high school aged kid through the court system for a poor decision; like smashing mailboxes. Thank you for opening up my eyes to the bigger picture of the need for juvenile attorneys. It made me sad, but also fascinated, when it was explained, in the sixth paragraph, that parents making poor decisions (such as drug abuse) can cause situations where children need legal representation and aid from a lawyer.

  5. Some in the Hoosier legal elite consider this prayer recommended by the AG seditious, not to mention the Saint who pledged loyalty to God over King and went to the axe for so doing: "Thomas More, counselor of law and statesman of integrity, merry martyr and most human of saints: Pray that, for the glory of God and in the pursuit of His justice, I may be trustworthy with confidences, keen in study, accurate in analysis, correct in conclusion, able in argument, loyal to clients, honest with all, courteous to adversaries, ever attentive to conscience. Sit with me at my desk and listen with me to my clients' tales. Read with me in my library and stand always beside me so that today I shall not, to win a point, lose my soul. Pray that my family may find in me what yours found in you: friendship and courage, cheerfulness and charity, diligence in duties, counsel in adversity, patience in pain—their good servant, and God's first. Amen."

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