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Guards Settle “Sick Building” Claim at Florida Jail for $495,000

Guards Settle "Sick Building" Claim at Florida Jail for $495,000

A year after John Hauser began working at Florida's Volusia County Jail in 1991, he began getting sick. He wasn't alone. In 2003, over one-third of the jail's 300-plus employees were on workers' compensation, citing respiratory problems, skin rashes and other illnesses. On December 21, 2006 the Volusia County Council approved a settlement of $495,000 to satisfy consolidated compensation claims involving 97 jail employees.

The claims of Hauser and other guards resulted in a lawsuit that alleged the Volusia County Branch Jail was a "sick building." The claimants hired an expert to test the jail, who found "mold problems so severe that it could lead to problems such as chronic bronchitis, asthma, or even cancer," reported the Orlando Sentinel.

In contrast the County's experts claimed they never found mold -- yet they acknowledged the jail's roof was leaky and needed replacement shortly after it was built in 1987. The result was water intrusion. They also acknowledged aging air conditioners were present. While County officials admitted those conditions could worsen asthma or other medical conditions, they insisted there was no mold.

The roof has since been fixed, but the water intrusion and air conditioning issues are still matters of concern. "Our goal was to protect our employees,? said Volusia?s Assistant County Attorney Nancye Jones. ?I mean, if the place is bad, we obviously want to know about it."

As part of "protecting" its employees, the County successfully sought permission to test the air quality in the guards' homes while their compensation claims were being contested. See: Hauser v. Volusia Co. Dept. of Corrections, 872 So.2d 987 (Fla.App. 1 Dist. 2004), review denied.

The 97 plaintiffs in the lawsuit will split the $495,000 settlement. Hauser will receive $15,000 and the other plaintiffs will get about $5,000 each. As part of the settlement agreement they must sign a release stating the jail was not a sick building. They also must pay their own attorney fees, which will range from $1,500 to $1,700 each. They were represented by DeLand attorney Mark Zimmerman.

"This should be the end of it," said Jones. "There are no claimants that can file because of the statute of limitations, since it's been no more than two years."

While the claims of guards who worked in the building only eight hours a day for five days a week have been settled to their satisfaction, one can only wonder how the prisoners who lived in the jail 24 hours a day fared -- as they certainly will not be compensated and as far is known, have not filed any suits over exposure to the toxic building. See: Hauser v. Volusia Co. Dept. of Corrections, Florida Div. of Administrative Hearings, OJCC No. 02-045088TGP.

Additional Source: Orlando Sentinel

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Related legal case

Hauser v. Volusia Co. Dept. of Corrections