The Texas mold damage case that sent shockwaves throughout the insurance industry with its initial $32 million jury verdict in June 2001Ballard vs. Farmers Insurancehas been quietly settled.
However, plaintiff Melinda Ballard said that despite the settlement, she will continue her advocacy work for insurance policyholders.
The provisions of the settlement, which was reached late last month, remain confidential and no further information will be made public, said Mary Flynn, a representative for Los Angeles-based Farmers Insurance Group.
Ms. Ballard, whose court battle with Farmers Insurance has now come to an end, said both sides are glad that this dispute is finally settled.
"Its always been my position that I wouldve rather settled than gone to trial," Ms. Ballard told National Underwriter.
"This lawsuit wasnt something I was anxious to get involved with. Ive always been willing to settle," Ms. Ballard said.
She said she will continue her role as an activist for insurance policyholders nationwide. Her group, Policyholders of America, (www.policyholdersofamerica.org) currently has some 2.5 million members, she said.
Mark Hanna, a representative for the Insurance Council of Texas, based in Austin, said he is glad to see the end of the Ballard case, which had scared insurers and homeowners alike. "Its great to have it behind us," he said.
Mr. Hanna said the settlement agreement is important because the case has been going on for such a long time. "The mold scare ended up costing Texas insurers more than $4 billion. That case and other media stories about mold is one of the many reasons that we ended up with a crisis in this state," according to Mr. Hanna.
Ms. Ballards case first began as a single claim for water damage to a hardwood floor, but was expanded to include mold contamination of the entire house and surrounding structures.
In June 2001, Ms. Ballard and her husband, Ron Allison, were awarded $32 million in their trial against Farmers Insurance, after the jury found that the carrier mishandled the insureds claim for mold damage in their 22-room home in Dripping Springs, an area outside Austin.
The verdict and Ms. Ballards allegation of health problems caused by mold drew media attention around the country.
However, in December 2002 a state appellate court lowered the award to $4 million in actual damages, throwing out millions the jury had provided for mental anguish and punitive damages.
Last month, appeals were pending before the Texas Supreme Court when both sides reached the settlement agreement.
In an interview with National Underwriter, Ms. Ballard said she is getting tired of being blamed for what she sees as insurers abuses.
"I dont think my case was the impetus for a bunch of other mold lawsuits. It just so happened that my case was more publicized," she said. "The real problem is the way in which insurance companies handled claims."
Ms. Ballard also said that as she continues her activist work, her group, Policyholders of America, will launch its own insurance products beginning this summer.
"These products are geared for our group membersthey are offered through a major brokerage firm, and we have participating carriers," she said. Available products will run the gamuthealth, auto, homeowners, she noted.
"We are excited. Its something new and creative for our members," she said.
Most importantly, Ms. Ballard said she advises her members that embracing preventive measures is the best course. If consumers are better educated on how to prevent expensive claims, she said, all parties involved would be better off.
"I am happy to have educated consumers, and I will continue to educate policyholders on ways to prevent these problems," she said. "We will continue with a vengeance on our educational efforts."
Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, April 16, 2004. Copyright 2004 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.