Attorney says mold at Morris College causing illness

A Morris student took this picture recently of mold infestation in his dorm's bathroom on campus, according to attorney John Harrell.
A Morris student took this picture recently of mold infestation in his dorm's bathroom on campus, according to attorney John Harrell.

The litigation attorney who filed a class-action suit on behalf of five current and former Morris College students against the college last week says the mold issues on the campus are "toxic" and that he wants the college to step up and fix the problems.

Attorney John Harrell of Harrell Law Firm, PA, in Charleston, made his comments Monday concerning the case after the lawsuit was filed last week and the college was notified.

Harrell said he first became aware of the alleged complaints of health issues related to mold infestation at the Morris campus about two months ago, when parents of students began to contact him in September.

Since then, Harrell said he and his firm's representatives have been on the campus "multiple times" to interview prospective clients who have contacted his firm about the issues.

Students have also supplied him photographs taken with their cellphones from their dormitories illustrating mold and other hazardous substances, he said.

"The conditions at the college are toxic, and they're making people literally sick to the point of having to go to the doctor," Harrell said.

The 17-page class-action complaint dates the mold problems at the college back to at least 2013, but Harrell said he thinks - based on clients' testimony - the problems date back to potentially 2007 or earlier.

In 2007, Harrell said a Morris student who lived in one of the student dorms died from meningitis. According to Harrell and numerous medical sources, mold is a cause of meningitis.

According to code statutes, the college must notify students of any threat or risk of contacting meningitis, but Harrell said it never did after the 2007 incident, to his knowledge.

Last month, dozens of students rallied at an area park to voice their frustration on the campus' mold problems and to bring about change.

After the October rally, the college posted on social media that it had fixed the problems, Harrell said. He said that's not possible because he has obtained dormitory photos from students since the rally.

The class-action complaint lists three campus dorms where mold has been identified by the five representative plaintiffs but makes reference to problems in other facilities on campus.

Harrell said Monday he thinks virtually every building on campus has mold problems, except for possibly the college's new administration building. He said he thinks some buildings have worse mold issues than others.

He emphasized he is not against the college in any way but that he wants it "to rise to the level of its historical status, which it is not doing," he said.

Morris is a historically black, coeducational, liberal arts college operated by the Baptist Educational and Missionary Convention of South Carolina. It was founded in 1908 by the state convention.

On Monday, college officials notified various members of its board of trustees and the state convention on issues raised in the complaint, according to the college's attorney, Thomas Levy of Thomas B. Levy Law Office in Columbia.

The college has not issued an official statement yet, Levy said.

Morris has 30 days from the time of being served to provide an answer to the complaint, which will be about mid-December according to Harrell.

The plaintiffs are seeking at least $55 million in damages from the school.