Jorell Alford v. Michael Steinbach: A single mother from New Haven was awarded a judgment of $78,162 for emotional and physical injuries she sustained after the moldy ceiling of her water-damaged apartment fell on her.
In March 2009, Jorell Alford moved into an apartment owned by Michael Steinbach. Shortly after she moved in, Alford complained about a leak and subsequent mold problem in the apartment. Maintenance workers called to investigate the problem told Alford that a wall would have to be removed, but they never returned.
A short time later, Alford said, she moved out of the apartment because she was worried about the health of her young son.
On December 9, 2009, she went back to the apartment to remove some clothes and canned food that she had left there. Frustrated because the landlord had not made the repairs, Alford decided to take photographs of the conditions at the apartment.
She started taking pictures of mold growing on the walls and ceiling and a puddle of water that had accumulated on the floor. When Alford closed her apartment door, she heard a noise and tried to run out.
She wasn't fast enough; a large piece of ceiling fell on top of her, hitting her back, neck and shoulders with enough force to knock her to the floor. She landed face down, with a large piece of waterlogged plaster on top of her.
Plaintiff's lawyer Tiffany Sabato, of the Martyn W. Philpot Jr. Law Office in New Haven, said she presented photographic evidence to back up Alford's testimony. "She had medical bills that she incurred because of this and has suffered severe trauma. She's anxious now on a regular basis, as a result," Sabato said.
Sabato also showed evidence that Alford had contacted the landlord and All Star Management Company, which was also named in the lawsuit, about the leaking ceiling and mold.
Working to the advantage of the plaintiff was the fact that the landlord, Steinbach, did not show up in court for the trial. "I think that helped us, yes," Sabato said.
Steinbach was represented by Brian Gildea, of Brian Gildea Associates in New Haven. Gildea did not return a phone call seeking comment for this article.
Judge Trial Referee Robert Berdon issued his ruling shortly after a trial that lasted just four hours. In his ruling, Berdon wrote that Alford was entitled to $3,162 for medical expenses and $75,000 for emotional distress.
"The plaintiff continues to suffer from body pain, loss of sleep and appetite, and suffers from emotional distress and trauma due to her injuries," Berdon wrote. "The plaintiff's testimony, and the evidence presented at trial, have established that the defendants were negligent and created a nuisance in their failure to safely maintain or repair the conditions in the apartment, given the ample notice of those conditions.
Finally, Berdon found, the incident was clearly harrowing for Alford. "In awarding damages, the court takes into consideration that it was obviously a frightening experience for the plaintiff," he wrote.•