Melinda Ballard was a successful businesswoman and a prominent activist for insurance policyholders. She became famous for her lawsuit against her insurer over mold damage in her 22-room mansion in Texas, which she claimed caused severe health problems for her and her family. She won a landmark verdict of $32 million in 2001, which was later reduced to $4 million on appeal. However, her victory came at a high price, as she lost her home, her fortune, and her health. She died in 2013 at the age of 55. This is the tragic story of the Mold Queen.
The Mold Nightmare
Melinda Ballard and her husband Ron Allison bought a 12,000 square foot home in Dripping Springs, Texas, in 1996. The home was modeled after Tara, the plantation house from Gone with the Wind. They lived there with their son Reese, who was born in 1996.
In 1999, they noticed a leak in their home and filed a claim with their insurer, Farmers Insurance. However, the insurer failed to properly fix the leak and the water damage, which led to the growth of a toxic black mold called Stachybotrys. The mold spread throughout the house, contaminating the air, the walls, the furniture, and the personal belongings of the family.
The mold also affected the health of the family. Melinda Ballard became sick and started coughing up blood. Ron Allison developed breathing problems and signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Reese Allison suffered from asthma and memory loss. The family also experienced headaches, nosebleeds, rashes, and fatigue.
The family hired an air-quality expert, Bill Holder, who confirmed that the mold was the cause of their illness. He advised them to leave the house immediately and to sue the insurer for negligence and bad faith.
The Legal Battle
Melinda Ballard filed a lawsuit against Farmers Insurance in 2000, seeking compensation for the damage to her home and the medical expenses for her family. She also accused the insurer of fraud, conspiracy, and malice, claiming that they deliberately ignored her claims and tried to cover up the mold problem.
The case went to trial in 2001 and attracted national attention. Ballard was represented by Mark Kincaid, a prominent lawyer who specialized in insurance litigation. Farmers Insurance was represented by Mike O’Donnell, a veteran defense attorney who had never lost a case.
The trial lasted for six weeks and featured expert witnesses, scientific evidence, and emotional testimonies. The jury sided with Ballard and awarded her $32 million, which included $12 million in punitive damages. The verdict was one of the largest in Texas history and set a precedent for other mold cases.
However, the verdict was not the end of the legal battle. Farmers Insurance appealed the decision and argued that the award was excessive and unsupported by the evidence. The appeals court agreed and reduced the award to $4 million in 2002. Ballard appealed the reduction to the Texas Supreme Court, but the court refused to hear the case in 2004.
The case was finally settled in 2006, when Ballard and Farmers Insurance reached a confidential agreement. The terms of the settlement were not disclosed, but Ballard said that she was satisfied with the outcome.
According to All Things Mold, Melinda Ballard’s lawsuit had a significant impact on the insurance industry and the public awareness of mold. Her case sparked a wave of mold litigation across the country, as more homeowners sued their insurers over mold damage and health issues. The insurance industry responded by raising premiums, limiting coverage, and excluding mold from policies.
Ballard also founded Policyholders of America, a consumer advocacy group and a clearinghouse for information on mold and insurance. She became a spokesperson and a leader for the mold victims and the policyholders. She appeared on various media outlets, such as 60 Minutes, Oprah, and Forensic Files, to share her story and to educate the public about the dangers of mold.
However, Ballard also faced many challenges and hardships after her lawsuit. She lost her home, which was demolished in 2004 due to the mold contamination. She also lost most of her personal possessions, which were either destroyed or sold at auction. She struggled financially, as she spent millions of dollars on legal fees, medical bills, and living expenses. She also struggled emotionally, as she suffered from depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Ballard moved to South Carolina with her son Reese, who continued to have health problems due to the mold exposure. Her husband Ron stayed in Texas, where he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and later died in 2020. Ballard died in 2013, at the age of 55, from an undisclosed cause of death.
Melinda Ballard was a courageous and determined woman who fought for justice and for the rights of the policyholders. She exposed the negligence and the corruption of the insurance industry and raised the awareness of the mold issue. She also inspired and helped many people who were affected by mold. She was a hero and a legend, but also a victim and a martyr. She was the Mold Queen.