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From Products Liability Law Daily, November 13, 2014

Moldy mattress claims survive causation and timeliness challenges

By Kathleen Bianco, J.D.

A consumer’s allegations that exposure to mold in his Sleep Number mattress had caused him to experience various physical ailments were sufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss based on a failure to plead causation, a federal district court in Missouri held. Furthermore, the court ruled that the claims were not time-barred under Missouri’s five-year limitation period for tort actions, (Simon v. Select Comfort Retail Corp., November 12, 2014, Ross, J.).

Background. The consumer, Ralph Simon, purchased a Sleep Number mattress manufactured by Select Comfort Retail Corp. in 1999. In 2009, Simon began experiencing a variety of physical ailments, including skin irritation, hearing loss, eye infections, sleep apnea, and throat irritation. Over the course of several years, Simon sought treatment from numerous healthcare providers with no relief. In early 2013, Simon removed the foam pad of his bed and discovered mold. Simon contends that the mold in his mattress was the result of a design defect that trapped heat and moisture, creating the perfect environment for mold and bacteria to grow. Simon claimed that Select Comfort was aware of this problem and failed to warn consumers of the possibility of mold growth, did not provide instructions to users to inspect the mattress periodically, and neglected to recall the defective mattresses.

Simon filed suit against Select Comfort asserting claims for strict liability design defect, strict liability failure to warn, negligence, and negligent failure to recall. Select Comfort moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that Simon had not adequately pled causation, the claims were time-barred, and there was no duty to recall.

Causation. In order to survive a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff need not demonstrate that it will prevail on its claims; it must only establish a claim for relief that is plausible on its face. Here, the consumer asserted that he had discovered mold inside his bed and that he had suffered severe physical ailments from his initial and continuing exposure to the mold, including through direct contact with the bed and by breathing mold spores. Accepting these allegations as true, the court determined that a reasonable inference can be drawn that the consumer’s exposure to mold in his mattress caused his alleged injuries. Consequently, dismissal of the claims was not warranted.

Statute of limitations. Under Missouri law, a tort action must be filed within five-years of discovery of the cause of an injury. In this case, the manufacturer asserted that the claims were time-barred because the statute of limitations had begun to run in 2009 when the consumer began experiencing symptoms. This argument was unavailing based on the allegations in the complaint, which contained a reasonable inference that the consumer had not suspected that his condition was related to mold exposure until he discovered the mold in 2013. Accordingly, the court was unable to determine with certainty that the claims were time-barred.

Negligent failure to recall. While the consumer was found to have abandoned his negligent recall claim by failing to address the arguments put forth by the manufacturer, neither federal nor Missouri law contains a common law duty to recall a product absent a mandate from a governmental agency. As such, even if the claim had not been abandoned, it would have failed on its merits.

The case number is 4:14-CV-1136 JAR.

Attorneys: David S. Corwin (Sher Corwin LLC) for Ralph Simon. Andrew S. Hansen (Oppenheimer and Wolff), and Eric D. Martin (Bryan Cave LLP) for Select Comfort Retail Corp.

Companies: Select Comfort Retail Corp.

MainStory: TopStory DesignManufacturingNews WarningsNews SofLReposeNews HouseholdProductsNews MissouriNews

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