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Antelope family hopes to keep $1.4 million award in toxic mold suit

An Antelope man and his family are waiting to clear another court hurdle to collect on the nearly $1.4 million a Sacramento jury awarded him in a toxic mold lawsuit they filed against their landlords.

Manuel Medina claimed that his pre-existing lung condition dramatically worsened when he, his wife and their three children moved into a rental house on Forrester Way five years ago. A Sacramento Superior Court jury agreed, and on Oct. 10 it awarded him $1.38 million in damages from defendants Lillian Penton and Leanne Morris.

Attorneys for the insured defendants filed motions for a new trial and to have the judgment set aside for what they say was a lack of evidence to support the jury’s finding. Judge Richard K. Sueyoshi is expected to issue a tentative ruling on the motions any day.

“It’s nothing that isn’t expected, only because (the defendants’ lawyers) have gone through so much to make sure it doesn’t happen,” said Trina Medina, the plaintiff’s wife who spoke on Manuel Medina’s behalf Thursday while he was feeling the effects of his primary ciliary dyskinesia, a respiratory syndrome that makes him susceptible to lung infections. “It’s hard to believe that it will happen. It’s like waiting in limbo – we can’t move forward to where he needs to be.”

Medina, represented by San Francisco attorney Cheryl D. Bossio, filed the action in 2011 along with his wife, their three children and his mother-in-law. The other plaintiffs claimed they also suffered mold-related illnesses, but Bossio voluntarily dismissed them from the action in March. Medina, on his own, prevailed in the jury’s findings two months ago following a 23-day trial.

Bossio said she offered to settle the case before trial for $600,000 but that attorneys for Penton and Morris countered with a $15,000 offer that she found unacceptable. She described Medina, 31, and his wife as “honest, hardworking people” who were brought down when he became ill in early 2010.

“Manny had worked full time since the age of 16,” Bossio said. “He played varsity football and baseball, and he was a very active family man with a long history of full-time employment. He had his pre-existing vulnerabilities, but when he moved into that house it was like he had fallen off a cliff.

“He was a father and a husband, and now he has to sit and witness his family caretaking for him, instead of the reverse,” Bossio said.

Defense lawyers declined to comment substantively on the case, pending the outcome of their motions.

“We were surprised by the verdict, but we believe there are viable post-trial and appellate issues,” said Rancho Cordova attorney Robert S. Rucci of the Borton Petrini law firm. “We don’t want to give any substantive comment until the case has been resolved in its entirety.”

In an interview Thursday, Trina Medina said her husband was working for an electronics subcontractor at Beale Air Force Base when their family moved into the home in August 2009. She said that within two weeks of moving in, “We started getting this whiff of a musty smell.” At first, she said they thought it was coming from the curtains, so they had them removed. They also aired out the house and thought the problem was solved, according to Medina.

Medina said her mother, who slept in a downstairs bedroom, “was the first to get sick.” They took her to an emergency room when she complained of breathing problems. When she got home from her overnight hospital stay, the mother moved into an upstairs bedroom, “and her symptoms started to go away,” Trina Medina said.

It was in November 2009 that Manuel Medina complained of fatigue, and he developed a cough that nearly made him pass out, according to his wife. Trina Medina said that when the children came down with bronchitis and pneumonia early in 2010, “My mom suggested that something in the house was making us sick.”

Two mold test kits turned up positive results, and a hygienist from a private lab examined their house in April 2010 and found that the mold levels “were extremely high,” Medina said. She added that when she presented the hygienist’s findings to the landlords, they dismissed them. Neither Penton nor Morris could be reached Thursday.

The family immediately vacated the house and left all belongings behind, fearing they were contaminated.

“Everything we owned was in that home,” Medina said. “Christmas stuff, camping equipment, kids’ outfits, toys, my late father’s stuff, family videos, pictures. We had nice furniture, two sets of leather couches. Two refrigerators. Wedding stuff, flower girl dresses, plates, linens, family heirlooms, jewelry, my wedding ring. It’s like a fire. It’s all gone.”

Trina said her husband is now “fully disabled – his lungs are those of an 80-year-old.” She said he hasn’t worked in five years, and that she hasn’t worked, either, taking care of him instead. She said they are still living in the Antelope area and living off of Manuel Medina’s Social Security disability payments as well as the generosity of friends and relatives.

In finding for Manuel Medina, the jury awarded him $443,200 in past and future wage losses, $445,287.84 in past and future medical costs, and $500,000 for pain and suffering.

The verdict “completely shocked” her, Trina Medina said.

“The biggest thing,” she said, “was that we were believed.”

Call The Bee’s Andy Furillo, (916) 321-1141. Follow him on Twitter @andyfurillo.

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