According to reports in Hollywood, Esq., TMZ, Huffington Post, and many others, Sharon Murphy alleges that her famous daughter, Brittany Murphy, was killed by “toxic mold” found in her home resulting from construction defects. Currently, Ms. Murphy is suing her former legal counsel because she claims that they failed to inform her of a potential wrongful death claim.
Brittany Murphy was a famous actress that appeared in numerous blockbuster films. In 2003, she and her mother purchased a home in the Hollywood Hills from another celebrity, the one and only Britney Spears. According to Wikipedia:
At 08:00 (16:00 GMT) on December 20, 2009, the Los Angeles Fire Department responded to “a medical request” at the Los Angeles home Murphy and Monjack shared. She had apparently collapsed in a bathroom. Firefighters attempted to resuscitate Murphy on the scene. She was transported to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead on arrival at 10:04 after going into cardiac arrest.
Shortly after her death, Assistant Chief Coroner Ed Winter told the Associated Press: “It appears to be natural.” An autopsy was performed on December 21, 2009. Her death certificate listed the cause of death as “deferred”. On February 4, 2010, the Los Angeles County coroner stated that the primary cause of Murphy’s death was pneumonia, with secondary factors of iron-deficiency anemia and multiple drug intoxication. On February 25, 2010, the coroner released a report stating that Murphy had been taking a range of over-the-counter and prescription medications, with the most likely reason being to treat a cold or respiratory infection. These included “elevated levels” of hydrocodone, acetaminophen, L-methamphetamine and chlorpheniramine. All of the drugs were legal and the death was ruled to be an accident, but the report observed: “the possible adverse physiological effects of elevated levels of these medications cannot be discounted, especially in her weakened state.”
In January, 2010, the actress’ husband, Simon Monjack, was reported to be ill, and on May 23, 2010, he passed away. According to reports, he died from similar causes as his wife – acute pneumonia and severe anemia.
Following Murphy’s death, widespread online rumors circulated that toxic mold was responsible. Two months before Brittany Murphy died, her home was inspected for the presence of mold due to suspected water intrusion, according to an article by CNN. At the time, Murphy’s publicist Roger Neal stated, “Simon Monjack received the report and assured Brittany and Sharon Murphy that there was no mold danger and it was safe to stay in the house.”
According to Brittany Murphy’s autopsy [PDF], the L.A. Coroner found no evidence that “toxic mold” was responsible for her death. In response to the rumors, Sharon Murphy told People Magazine the following:
“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. “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.”
As for the speculation that has surfaced, she says, “It’s absurd that this kind of misinformation is being reported by the media.”
Construction Defect Lawsuit
In 2006, according to The Hollywood Reporter, Murphy filed a lawsuit against the original contractor and subcontractors of the home. In 2009, they switched legal counsel and retained the services of Steiner & Libo. Shortly before Monjack’s death, the case was settled out of court for a reported $600,000. In so doing, Sharon Murphy waived any future claims against the builder, including any claim of wrongful death associated with the alleged “toxic mold.”
Now Ms. Murphy is suing Steiner & Libo, claiming that they failed to inform her of a potential wrongful death claim.
The topic of toxic mold is a “touchy” subject in construction defect litigation and personal injury claims. For more background, I recommend the following resources:
- Center for Disease Control: Facts about Stachybotrys chartarum and Other Molds
- Environmental Protection Agency: Mold Resources, and Indoor Air Facts
- New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene: Guidelines on Assessment and Remediation of Fungi in Indoor Environments
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