Could toxic mold have caused Brittany Murphy and her husband, Simon Monjack, to succumb to pneumonia? That's the claim attached to a lawsuit filed by the late actress' mother, Sharon Murphy. She's suing her former attorneys for malpractice, saying they misrepresented her when advising her to settle a claim concerning the condition of the home Murphy lived in. As a result of the settlement, Sharon Murphy says she unknowingly waived her right to file a wrongful death suit.
The 32-year-old actress, who starred in hits like "Clueless" and "8 Mile" died in December 2009, with Monjack following less than five months later. Pneumonia was a leading cause of death in both cases.
The home they lived in, purchased in 2003 from Britney Spears, was later found to have been built poorly, allowing water to seep in and allegedly creating the right conditions for mold growth. Lawsuits against the builders were filed as early as 2006, leading many media outlets to report that black mold (or S. chlorohalonata) may have contributed to Murphy's death.
This toxic fungi arises in poorly ventilated or water-damaged homes. Symptoms, depending on length of exposure, can include everything from chronic coughing, fever, and headaches to nausea, vomiting, and bleeding in the lungs and nose. More than 100 types of lung problems have been attributed to S. chlorohalonata.
According to the Hollywood Reporter
, while the Los Angeles County coroner's office did not find any mold during the autopsies of Murphy and Monjack, they did request permission to examine the home for the fungi — something they claim Sharon Murphy did not allow.
Back in the summer of 2010, only months after her son-in-law's passing, Sharon denied the mold allegations or any requests from the coroner's office.
"I have never been personally asked by the coroner or anyone from the Health Department to come and inspect my home for mold," Murphy told People magazine
. "In the last eight months, I have been through the most unimaginable events, which no one could ever fathom. I have and will continue to be very cooperative and fully comply with any such request."
She went on to call the mold reports "absurd."
The turning point appears to have been this summer when Sharon Murphy put the home on the market. In examining the lawsuit, E! News reports
that the mother found "extensive water damage and mold infestation." She is is seeking damages and court costs on charges of legal malpractice, breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty.
According to one online mold removal guide, anyone who believes they are suffering from symptoms related to black mold should immediately consult a doctor.
"Remember, mold poisoning leaves no victims behind," the site reads. "It can attack all ages and both humans and pets. It can be found in both older buildings and newer ones. It can be found in your home, at your job, at your favorite restaurant. It is not the same as mold that can cause allergies. It can and will harm you if it’s left untreated."