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Grand Jury Issues Report On 'Endangerment to a Child'Charges Against Farmers Insurance

SAN MARCOS, Texas, Feb. 3 /PRNewswire/ -- Today, a Hays County Grand Jury has found reason to continue a criminal investigation of Endangerment to a Child charges involving Farmers Insurance Company ("Farmers"), the largest property and casualty insurer in the United States.

After a four-month investigation, prompted by a criminal complaint filed by Melinda Ballard of Dripping Springs, Texas, with the Hays County Sheriff's office in May of 1999, members of the twelve-person Grand Jury reported to the Judge that the case merited possible further action.

In their report to the Judge, members of the Grand Jury requested that the investigation remain open, pending additional evidence that may arise proving Farmers knowingly or intentionally exposed a three-year-old boy to a deadly neurotoxic mold.

The language in the statute governing the charge of Endangerment to a Child, reads as follows:  

"A person commits the offense of Endangerment to a Child if he, by act or   

omission, engages in conduct that places a child, younger than 15 years,  

in imminent danger of death, bodily injury, or physical or mental  

impairment." (Texas Penal Code section 22.041)  

On behalf of their son, Reese, Melinda Ballard and husband Ron Allison said, "We have received hundreds of letters of support from families all across the country with similar problems.  We want to thank the Grand Jury for the diligence they applied to this matter.  We sleep better knowing that Hays County has taken this criminal complaint seriously enough to continue to investigate the actions of Farmers."

Ballard and Allison allege that Farmers' microbiologist -- Dan Bridge of Rimkus Engineering in Houston, Texas -- found the family to be living in space containing airborne Stachybotrys ("Stachy") spores, yet neither Bridge nor Farmers informed the family of their discovery until the mold had caused irreversible health effects.   The family retained the services of Texas Tech University to conduct testing of the home and evacuated their residence immediately -- once Texas Tech's testing confirmed the presence of toxic spores in their living areas.

Stachy is a toxic mold that grows on wet building materials.  It has been linked to deaths in infants and causes severe cognitive and respiratory disorders. Experts say that it is unusual that Stachy spores become airborne, but when such a situation occurs, it's a sign that Stachy is throughout a structure and residents should evacuate the premises.

The family filed a civil suit against Farmers earlier this year (see PRNewswire May 28, 1999 and July 20, 1999).

Farmers Insurance is headquartered in Los Angeles.  Farmers is owned by Zurich Financial Services, whose shares are traded on the London and Zurich stock exchanges.


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