Sections of the home had been left without insulation by crews working for the Weyerhaeuser Co.-owned developer, he claimed, and wet materials used during the house’s rushed construction provided a foothold for mold.
November 19, 2009
By LEVI PULKKINEN
Winter hits hard at Jon Sigafoos’ home, harder, he says, than it ought.
His family of four moved into the Quadrant Corp.-built home four years ago, taking up residence in a newly constructed neighborhood at Bonney Lake.
It didn’t take long, Jon Sigafoos said, to realize the house wasn’t all it had been promised to be.
Sold on its square footage — Quadrant advertisements run during the housing boom presented a family lost in its living room — the house lacked a heater powerful enough to warm all that space, Sigafoos said. Sections of the home had been left without insulation by crews working for the Weyerhaeuser Co.-owned developer, he claimed, and wet materials used during the house’s rushed construction provided a foothold for mold.
Those flaws, unexpected in the new home, have left Sigafoos, his wife and two children sick even during the warm, drier months, he said. In winter, problems with the home have forced them to abandon much of the house due to the cold and spend their time together sealed in the master bedroom.
“It’s literally an icebox,” Sigafoos said. “I don’t want to sound like we live a pitiful life or anything, but I can’t say it’s great living in that house.
“The thing that’s frustrating is that (Quadrant) was totally aware of these problems and they didn’t tell anybody. … If I could sum it up in one word, that’d be cold.”
Following on an earlier civil suit against Quadrant by 10 families, the Sigafoos family and three others are currently pursuing a potential class-action lawsuit against Quadrant Homes.
As in the previous action, which ended in a confidential settlement, the homeowners allege the mega homebuilder sold thousands of houses around Western Washington without paying adequate attention to quality control. Further, the owners claim Quadrant concealed defects within the homes from prospective buyers before hustling them through an accelerated purchase process.
Contacted for comment, a Quadrant spokeswoman declined to address the allegations specifically except to issue a general denial.
“Because this issue is currently in litigation, Quadrant is constrained in making public comment about it,” spokeswoman Kate Tate said by e-mail. “We can say that we are proud of the quality homes Quadrant builds, the construction practices we use, and the customer service we provide to all homeowners.”
In court documents, attorneys for the homeowners allege “widespread, shoddy construction” in Quadrant homes has left an unknown number of customers with “sick houses.”
The homeowners contend that mold growing in the houses — flowering, they claim, because rushed construction schedules didn’t leave time to dry wet building materials — is circulated through poorly designed and badly built heating systems, poisoning occupants.
During the boom years, Quadrant boasted through promotional materials that its homes were constructed on a 54-day construction schedule. Time-lapse photography available on the company Web site shows a two-story home springing from bare ground, finishing with a new owner backing a U-Haul truck into the driveway.
When mold was found, one Quadrant production manager said during a deposition, it was sponged with a bleach solution and scrubbed before the home was finished. The company didn’t tell prospective buyers when mold was found, the production manager said in court documents; like other issues arising during construction, the builder didn’t feel it necessary to notify buyers of a problem that had been solved.
After mold was found in the attic of a house in a Snoqualmie development, inspectors found that a dryer vent had been routed to the attic but never piped through to the outdoors, according to depositions taken by the plaintiffs’ attorneys, Lory Lybeck and Katherine Felton of the Mercer Island firm Lybeck Murphy LLP. In another home, remediation crews found more than 1,200 square feet of mold.
“Like with thousands of other (homebuyers), Quadrant did not sell (the plaintiffs) the home it represented,” Lybeck said in court documents. “Instead their home is unhealthy with serious air quality issues and other related problems.”
Reviewing the claims by 27 residents of Quadrant, industrial hygienist Michelle Copeland found that each case involved “the issue of unhealthy air arising from the same common set of conditions including inadequate air flow and air exchange within the home and excessive moisture resulting in the growth and accumulation of mold.”
“These common conditions combine to create an unhealthy and ‘toxic soup’ affecting the air quality in the homes,” Copeland said in a Feb. 21, 2008, declaration filed in King County Superior Court.
For the Sigafoos family and several others, that “soup” has allegedly resulted in a string of illnesses that threaten to become chronic.
Sigafoos said his two young children, aged 8 and 3, see their health improve whenever they get a chance to be out of the home for a week or so. But the asthma, respiratory infections and sinus trouble returns when they come home.
After examining the family as part of the lawsuit, Dr. Matthew Keifer, a professor of internal medicine with the University of Washington, found that the house was to blame.
“The longer the Sigafoos family live in and are exposed to the conditions in their Quadrant home, the greater the risk that the health problems caused to each of them will become chronic or permanent even after they are removed from the unhealthy environment,” Keifer said in a declaration filed with the court. “It is in the best interest of each of the Sigafoos family members to remove themselves (from) the harmful air quality in their Quadrant home as soon as they reasonably can.”
Declarations filed on behalf of other families involved in the suit offer similar opinions. The homes, the doctors hired by the plaintiffs found, are making their owners sick.
In summer months, Sigafoos said, his family can air out the home enough to make it reasonably habitable. When the temperatures drop, though, that ceases to be an option.
Due to concerns about dusting his children with mold spores, Sigafoos said he can’t run the furnace. Instead, he said, his family retreats to the master bedroom of the three-bedroom home where, with space heaters and a gas fireplace, they can push temperatures closer to livable.
Last winter, Sigafoos said, heath concerns drove his family to move into a travel trailer parked at a friend’s home. Finding that living arrangement little better, he said they will try to stay in the house this year.
“It’s just a battle every day,” said Sigafoos, who does engineering and drafting for a Puget Sound-area city government. “It’s just no fun waking up in the morning when it’s just freezing.”
Writing the court, Weyerhaeuser attorney Michael R. Scott contended that the corporation cannot be held liable for any actions of Quadrant, a wholly owned subsidiary of Weyerhaeuser Real Estate Co. that is in turned owned by the Federal Way-based wood products giant. The plaintiffs had named Weyerhaeuser and its real estate firm as defendants in the litigation.
Arguing on behalf of Quadrant, Scott said the homeowners’ complaints should be handled through out-of-court arbitration as he alleges the sale agreements signed by the home buyers requires. Such a move would place the litigation outside the county court system and, as such, would remain largely private.
Reviewing a decision by King County Superior Court Judge Chris Washington to allow the litigation to move forward, the state Court of Appeals for Division One reversed Washington’s ruling last month and found that the arbitration cause was valid. Both parties have since asked that the three-judge panel to reconsider its decision, which would see Washington review the case to determine whether any claims made fall outside the arbitration agreement.
Sigafoos said he wants to see the case resolved but has little faith in the closed-door arbitration process. Until then, he said he and his family remain stuck in a home they can’t leave and can’t really live in.
In his view, Quadrant is simply attempting to delay litigation as long as possible in the hope that the company can wait out the homeowners.
“You’re dealing with real people who’ve got kids,” Sigafoos said. “You’re dealing with families who are just trying to live everyday life. … It’s like, why don’t you just come to the table and try to resolve this.”
Levi Pulkkinen can be reached at 206-448-8348 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Political Action Committee – NAA – files Amicus Brief in mold case (two infant deaths in mold filled apt – Wasatch Prop Mgmt) citing US Chamber/ACOEM ‘litigation defense report’ to disclaim health effects of indoor mold & limit financial risk for industry
“Changes in construction methods have caused US buildings to become perfect petri dishes for mold and bacteria to flourish when water is added. Instead of warning the public and teaching physicians that the buildings were causing illness; in 2003 the US Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform, a think-tank, and a workers comp physician trade organization mass marketed an unscientific nonsequitor to the courts to disclaim the adverse health effects to stave off liability for financial stakeholders of moldy buildings. Although publicly exposed many times over the years, the deceit lingers in US courts to this very day.” Sharon Noonan Kramer
Information on Riverstone Residential knowingly exposing tenants to extreme amounts of mold toxins at Toxic Mold Infested Jefferson Lakes Apartments in Baton Rouge, Louisiana