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Policeman awarded $5.4m in toxic mould case

Health problems: Emmerson Donald

A police officer who suffered chronic health problems from being exposed to toxic mould at Hamilton and Somerset police stations has been awarded $5.4 million.

Emmerson Donald took his case against the Department of Works and Engineering to the Supreme Court last year claiming his “body and mind were broken down” and his “life was hijacked” by the illness.

The department admitted liability and after hearing arguments from both sides, a damages award was provisionally set at a little over $4.5 million. However, the final figure was increased to $5.4 million.

Mr Donald’s lawyer, Richard Horseman, told The Royal Gazette that the case spanned six years and is one of the largest personal injury judgments to come out of the Bermuda courts.

“It is also, I believe, the first case where substantial damages were awarded for toxic mould poisoning in Bermuda,” Mr Horseman said.

“Employers, landlords and occupiers of buildings and premises must be cognisant of the fact that certain types of mould pose a clear and present danger to people’s health and if premises and work environments are not properly maintained, persons who are in charge of the maintenance of those buildings can be held liable.”

Mr Donald, 44, came to Bermuda in 2000 after seven years’ experience with the Jamaican police service.

The Supreme Court heard he was an “outstanding” officer with an exemplary record until he first fell ill with chronic renal failure in 2003.

Mr Donald’s legal team executed a court order back in 2010 allowing experts to gain access to the Hamilton and Somerset police stations, where they discovered “vast colonies of mould”.

They uncovered documents that they said revealed that the Hamilton Police Station had been deemed unfit as a work environment as far back as 1974.

Mr Horseman said: “It was unfortunate that the Hamilton Police Station was not shut down much earlier, and a new station built much sooner.

“We are presently aware of other government premises now that are in very poor condition and we believe the health of persons who work in or have worked in these building have been adversely affected.

“There will clearly be more of these type of cases in the future. Hopefully the Donald case will bring home that you cannot ignore the risk that toxic mould poses to the health of workers.”

He added: “I know Mr Donald would rather have his health back than any of this money. His life expectancy has, according to the Government’s health experts, been significantly reduced as a result of the many illnesses he suffers from, which are directly linked to toxic mould.

“His medical care and expenses will be substantial and his future is uncertain. The damages awarded will go some way to see that he is compensated for the losses inflicted upon him. Wakefield Quin was glad to have been able to assist Mr Donald in his time of need.”

As well as the multimillion-dollar damages sum, Mr Donald was awarded just over $600,000 for recovery of attorney’s fees and expert’s costs.

At trial he maintained he could have been promoted through the ranks all the way up to superintendent by 2022, had it not been for his medical condition.

In relation to his future promotional prospects, Chief Justice Ian Kawaley said: “I find that the plaintiff would most likely have been promoted to the rank of sergeant with effect from January 1, 2010, as he himself claims.

“I accordingly find that the plaintiff’s career, but for the defendants’ negligence, would have likely followed scenario two and that he would have been further promoted to the rank of inspector with effect from January 1, 2015 and retired in that rank at age 55.”

The Chief Justice added: “It is common ground that the plaintiff will require at least one kidney transplant preceded and followed by ongoing dialysis treatment, is subject to increased health risks, notably cancer and cardiovascular disease, and has a reduced life expectancy.”