Claim Scenarios Involving Contractors and Indoor Air Quality

Most Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) concerns center around materials brought into a building, components of the building itself, or operations taking place there. Even when a structure is thought to be managed properly, any spill, failure, or stress within the building caused by someone working onsite can lead to a serious IAQ issue. Concerns can range from mold to off-gassing of building materials, to cleaning products, etc. Contractors need to be especially sensitive to the problems surrounding IAQ, and carefully consider how their activities onsite could affect air quality.

Check out some real claims relating to contractors and indoor air quality:

  • A residential contractor used solvents to remove paint from a residential structure and improperly disposed of the materials on-site. A group of residents filed a $10 million toxic vapor inhalation suit against the contractor, citing bodily injury, trespass of pollutants and adverse effects to their quality of life.
  • A residential contractor disposed of sealant and solvents containing toluene in a covered, enclosed dumpster after
  • performing routine finish work. These fumes depleted the oxygen levels in the dumpster. After climbing into the dumpster for unknown reasons, two 10-year-old children were overcome by fumes and died. The contractor faced a claim in excess of $2 million for improper disposal of the toluene.
  • The Department of Energy (DOE) hired several environmental contractors to assist in operating one of its facilities. Following an accidental release of air pollutants, local residents filed a class action nuisance suit against the contractors, alleging emotional distress and diminished property value. The case was settled in the residents’ favor, for whom an $80 million trust fund was established. Both the government and the contractors were required to contribute to the fund.
  • A general contractor installed new carpeting in an office building. One week after the installation, the owner of the office building informed the contractor that employees were complaining of headaches and dizziness. The contractor could not prove that the manufacturers of the carpet or the carpet adhesive were responsible. The contractor filed a claim with their general liability carrier. The claim was denied because the contractor brought the hazardous materials, such as formaldehyde and volatile organic compounds, onto the site.
  • While performing building renovations, a general contractor used gas powered generators and equipment. The contractor failed to properly vent or contain the emissions from the equipment during operations. Employees working in a nearby area of the building complained of headaches, nausea and respiratory problems. The results of an air quality study concluded that the increased carbon dioxide levels in the building resulted from the construction equipment. The contractor was liable for causing building-related illnesses that resulted in 30 bodily injury claims totaling over $100,000.
  • A mechanical contractor removed ductwork from a hospital’s HVAC system.  It was later determined that the ductwork was home to a dangerous fungus.  The dismantling activities and the on-site storage of dismantled ductwork caused the fungus to spread into the hospital.  Patients became infected with the fungus; some were even critically infected.  The contractor was found liable for the spread to the fungus and faced bodily injury and property damage claims in excess of $1 million.

For more information on indoor air quality, contact us. Please also visit the IAQ issue of our e-magazine.