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Mold problem refuses to clear up
Greg Thomas
The Times-Picayune

As much as we shake our heads, as much as we snicker, as much as we wag our cynical tongues, this mold stuff is for real.

The local anecdotes are piling up too high to be ignored. The owner of a local home calls after reading a story about the mold exclusion in homeowner insurance policies written in Louisiana. The damage to his 3-year-old mansion is $300,000. He wants pictures taken, he wants his insurance agent strung from a light pole -- in front of his house would be fine -- and he wants his builder's first-born child indentured for life.

Then he wants to retract everything because his attorney says it will hurt his chances of settling.

Acting Louisiana Insurance Commissioner J. Robert Wooley took one national insurance carrier to task this week for mailing "misleading" correspondence to its 280,000 policy holders in the state. State Farm's mailing reminded customers that their polices exclude damage from mold. It does, but that doesn't mean an insurance carrier won't have to pay to get rid of it, Wooley insists.

A sudden and accidental event that triggers water damage that results in mold would be covered. The insurance companies aren't too sure, and they'll hobnob with Wooley sometime this month to sort all that out.

The mold exclusion policy hasn't been tested by the courts yet. A St. Bernard Parish couple who filed a mold suit against their insurer recently settled their case for $1.1 million. The insurance company is now suing the builder and the previous owner who sold the home, alleging the sellers didn't disclose the problem. Was it lousy siding? A record-setting hail storm that caused the damage? Lawyers set about creating a 10-inch case file over a year's time before the insurance company settled.

The settlement actually has nothing to do with mold and everything to do with the way the insurance company handled the claim. It bungled it, according to records filed in the case, by initially offering the plaintiffs $197 for the mold they found on their ceiling.

The settlement avoids a trial and takes care of the damages the St. Bernard family faced but does little to offer a glimpse into how Louisiana courts will handle these suits. Will medical testimony that mold causes specific illnesses be admissible in court? Is mold only a secondary issue to existing liabilities faced by a buyer, seller, lender or builder?

We'll have to wait until the next lawsuit to find out.

Getting the mall rolling

After years of waiting for a catalyst to bring crowds back to the once-thriving Lake Forest Plaza Mall in eastern New Orleans, the opening of a 12-screen stadium-seating cinema Friday is the long-awaited boost developer Gowri Kailas has been waiting for.

The Grand Theatre is modeled after the hugely successful Palace chain sold to AMC by Gulf States Theatres earlier this year. Indeed, one of the partners is George Solomon, the son of cinema guru T.G. "Teddy" Solomon. Other investors are Ashton Ryan of First Bank and Trust, Joseph Canizaro of Columbus American Properties, Ronald Burns Sr., owner of Quick Courier Delivery Service, Alden McDonald of Liberty Bank, and Kailas of Lake Forest Plaza Mall LLC, which owns the struggling 1.1-million-square-foot mall.

There's a lot at stake in the $9.5 million cinema, which was built on the old parking lot of the mall's closed Sears store.

Will it be the spark that rekindles the Lake Forest Plaza Mall as the community center it was nearly 20 years ago?

There's also a sizable chunk of taxpayer money in the $9.5 million theater project thanks to a low-interest loan from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

As the cinema thrives, as local pundits are certain it will, the momentum to remake the Plaza mall has never been greater. If this doesn't work, what will?


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