Do You Work in a Hazardous Building? | SBS Sick Building Syndrome


Do You Work in a Hazardous Building? | SBS Sick Building Syndrome

Can buildings get sick in Minnesota? The answer to that question is… YES. Buildings can be ‘diagnosed’ with Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) which is the generic term for a variety of health issues that can be associated with a place of work.  The causes are problems with the building itself, often relating to air quality.  That can include poor ventilation resulting in irritation from indoor chemicals as well as adverse health effects from furniture outgassing and mold.

Have You Become Ill as a Result of Sick Building Syndrome?

Where this turns into a legal problem is when workers become ill from one or more elements of SBS.  For example, in a recent Louisiana case brought as a toxic tort claim, office workers argued that their exposure to toxic mold in their office building’s walls caused headaches, respiratory infections, sore throats, body aches, flu-like symptoms, itching, and increases in allergy reactions.  Their claim was successful; they were able to demonstrate, through expert reports and testimony, that it was in fact the mold exposure that had caused their medical conditions.

While the Louisiana case was brought in the context of toxic tort litigation rather than in the workers’ compensation realm, the same arguments are required to assert a claim for workers’ compensation benefits based on SBS.  At the moment, SBS-based workers’ compensation claims are largely unchartered territory in Minnesota.  There aren’t any higher court decisions providing guidance on such claims.  As the University of Minnesota’s Department of Environmental Health and Safety has concluded, chemical sensitivity to a building’s environment “is an issue that is not well understood.”

What does this mean for you if you’re considering making a Minnesota workers’ compensation claim based on SBS?

First, you (or, ideally, your lawyer, since this is a complex area of law) may need to do a certain amount of educating of the court on the medical background of your condition. It is imperative to show how SBS caused your condition, and what the specific adverse health effects on you have been.

The importance of providing strong, reliable expert evidence was demonstrated by a recent non-Minnesota case, which involved employees who had been complaining of a strange odor emanating from their office building. Following investigation, two types of mold were discovered within the building walls. Several of the employees sought, and were awarded, workers’ compensation benefits based on various neurocognitive and musculoskeletal problems that they alleged resulted from mold exposure. However, the award was later reversed, and the state’s appellate court found that the methodologies that the employees’ expert was using to establish that the mold caused the employees’ health problems were not reliable.  Therefore, the expert’s reports and conclusions could not be used as evidence to support the employees’ claims.  Because expert evidence is key to this type of claim, the takeaway message from the Maryland case is that you’re going to need solid, medical evidence based on well-reputed scientific methodologies in order to succeed on an SBS claim.

If you have any questions about Sick Building Syndrome or feel that you may be need help for your Workers’ Compensation claim call Chris Rosengren at Rosengren, Kohlmeyer and Hagen Law Office Chtd.


Roko Law

Chris Rosengren
Rosengren Kohlmeyer, Law Office Chtd.
Mankato, Minnesota