Under New York law, actions to recover for an injury to property or person have a statute of limitations of three years from the date of the damage. It is difficult to reconcile these time limitations with the exposure to mold on one’s property, however, as the damage is often latent and discovery of it does not always easily occur within that three year time span.
To protect against potential mold claims, CPLR § 214 provides in part that the three year period within which an action to recover damages for personal injury or injury to property caused by the latent effects of exposure to any substance or combination of substances, in any form, upon or within the body or upon or within property must be commenced shall be computed from the date of discovery of the injury by the plaintiff or from the date when through the exercise of reasonable diligence such injury should have been discovered by the plaintiff, whichever is earlier.
In Searle v. City of New Rochelle, 293 A.D.2d 735, 742 N.Y.S.2d 314 (2002), plaintiffs commenced a suit against the city and a roofing company. Their case stemmed from injuries alleged to be the result of a toxic mold condition in their home leased from the city. In 1995, plaintiffs observed the mold throughout their home. They alleged that by 1997 there was an odor in the home resulting from the mold. It was not until the spring of 1998, however, that an expert associated the plaintiffs’ health problems with the toxic mold in their home, and they decided to bring a claim. The Supreme Court found, as later confirmed by the Appellate Division, that the plaintiffs were time-barred from bringing this action. Both courts found that the plaintiffs’ action was untimely since their symptoms began in fall of 1995 as did their discovery of the mold and the statute of limitations had run by the time their claim was brought in the spring of 1998.
Searle v. City of New Rochelle and other such cases therefore provide homeowners in particular with a timeline in which they must bring a claim alleging mold damages. “A plaintiff’s cause of action for damages resulting from exposure to toxic substances accrues when the plaintiff begins to suffer the manifestations and symptoms of his or her physical condition, i.e. when the injury is apparent, not when the specific cause of the injury is identified” (Searle v. City of New Rochelle, 293 A.D.2d 735, 736, 742 N.Y.S.2d 314).