Botched mold removal causes debilitating illness, lawsuit says

Contractors did not remove dangerous toxins from behind walls, woman says

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Annette Davis struggled to understand what was happening to her body.

For some time she had been living with a condition called chronic fatigue syndrome, but she was managing it with medication. Then in 2014, something changed. 

"I couldn't explain it. I just dropped so much weight. I got down to 97 pounds," Davis said. "I started cracking teeth because I was anemic. I had my hair falling out."

The trouble started after February 2014. A water cooling tower on the roof of her condominium building, the Tides at BridgeSide Square in Fort Lauderdale, ruptured and dumped water into the building.

"I just started hearing what sounded like 30 bathtubs at once pouring behind my wall," Davis said.

The property management company, AKAM Living Services Inc., called in Alliance Restoration to address the water damage. 

"They brought a dehumidifier and a couple fans," Davis said.

Davis got sicker but the cause was a mystery until 2017, when medical tests found toxins in her system that had been caused by fungus. She asked the condo management to test for mold behind the walls of her unit. 

"What he found was aspergillus, which is also what was found in my body," Davis said. 

A note from Davis' doctor states that aspergillus exposure probably occurred in her apartment.

Mold professionals said that when water is behind walls, equipment such as dehumidifiers and air movers are not enough to prevent mold. 

"You definitely need to access that wall cavity," Pat Caiazza, of South Florida Mold and Restoration, told Local 10 News. "It's a necessity."

Caiazza, a state-licensed mold remediator, said creating airflow behind the wall is critical. 

"If you don't dry that out, eventually, soon you're going to get mold," he said. "It will happen." 

Photos from court documents show that Alliance Rostoration removed parts of the wall in other units, but did not do so in Davis' apartment, even though they billed for the exact same work.

"This company did the work in the Tides in my client's unit without a license, without the proper insurance," Mitch Chusid, Davis' attorney, said.

Chusid said AKAM Living Services was negligent by hiring Alliance Restoration to do the work.

Alliance Restoration's website lists mold remediation among its services. While the company has a license as a general contractor, it does not have a mold remediation license for any of the employees who worked in Davis' condo.

No one at the company's Boca Raton office would comment on the lawsuit.

Aspergillus can be particularly dangerous for someone like Davis, who already had a compromised immune system. She now requires grueling monthly treatments.

"Every three weeks, I'll have to be hooked up to my IV pole for eight hours a day," Davis said.

She wants others to know more than she did.

"If you're immune compromised and you're exposed to mold, it can kill you," Davis said. "I'll be dealing with this for the rest of my life."

An attorney representing the Tides said the condo building had no comment on the pending litigation.

Things to look for when hiring a mold professional: 

  • Make sure they are licensed by the state of Florida by checking the Department of Business & Professional Regulations.
  • The state licenses individuals, not entire companies for mold related services. Though many professionals say there is little oversight checking in on those operating without the required license.
  • Ask if the contractor is insured specifically for mold remediation work.
  • Remember mold inspectors and mold remediators are two different things. A mold inspector can inspect, take samples, review results, write recommendations and do clearance inspections. A remediator is the contractor who carries out the project work to remove the mold. 

About the Author:

Amy Viteri is an Emmy Award-winning journalist who joined Local 10 News in September 2015. She's currently an investigative reporter and enjoys uncovering issues facing South Florida communities. A native of the Washington, D.C., area, she's happy to be back in South Florida, where she earned a masters degree at the University of Miami.