Mold Litigation: Tort Law Trumps Home Insurance Contracts

lawIn Bruno v. Erie Insurance, Angela Bruno was diagnosed with esophageal cancer and cancer of the voice box, which her doctors believed was caused by mold. The Brunos later had to leave and demolish their house because the mold could not be eradicated. The insurance company and its contractor told the plaintiffs that the mold in their home wasn’t dangerous. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has decided that an insured party is not barred from suing an insurer in a tort action simply because a contract exists between the two parties.  The Brunos sued Erie, Rudick and the previous owners in common pleas court, bringing numerous counts, including a negligence claim against Erie for “misleading” the Brunos about the seriousness of the mold problem and failing to warn them about it, and a professional liability claim against Rudick. Erie and Rudick filed preliminary objections and the trial judge found in their favor, the opinion said.

On appeal, the Brunos argued they didn’t need a certificate of merit for the professional negligence claim against Rudick, because they weren’t clients or patients of the company. The Superior Court rejected the argument.
Counsel for the plaintiffs, Pittsburgh solo attorney Gary H. Davis, said the certificate of merit rule had stated very clearly that the Brunos should not have to file a certificate of merit. The decision also may lead to more tort filings against insurers and construction companies, he said.  “For a very long time, most Pennsylvania and federal courts have largely assumed that if there was a contract between the parties, a tort claim couldn’t be maintained,” he said. “Hopefully after the Bruno decision that will end.”

(Copies of the 48-page opinion in Bruno v. Erie Insurance, PICS No. 14-2088, are available from Pennsylvania Law Weekly. Please call the Pennsylvania Instant Case Service at 800-276-PICS to order or for information.) •

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