The family of Olivia Paregol, a freshman who died in 2018 amid an outbreak of adenovirus on the University of Maryland’s College Park campus, is suing the university and two former school officials, claiming the institution was negligent in its handling of mold in Paregol’s dorm as well as the spread of adenovirus on its campus.
The lawsuit against the university as well as the university’s former president, Wallace Loh, and former health center director, David McBride, alleges the school and McBride knew of a reported case of adenovirus among students in early November 2018 when Paregol’s health was deteriorating. But the school did not notify students or the public until after Paregol’s death more than two weeks later, the lawsuit alleges, adding that this put students and staff members with weakened immune systems at risk.
The case was filed Wednesday in the Circuit Court for Prince George’s County.
While there are more than 50 strains of adenoviruses with a range of severity, people with chronic conditions and weakened immune systems are at a higher risk to develop serious illness from them.
Paregol had a compromised immune system due to her Crohn’s disease, according to the lawsuit.
During the fall 2018 semester, 40 students at the university tested positive for adenovirus, according to the health center’s website at the time.
Paregol’s family is asking for $100.4 million in damages from the university, Loh and McBride, claiming wrongful death as well as survival damages for the suffering Paregol experienced during her weeks of illness before she died, according to Tom Doyle, the Paregol family’s attorney.
The university said in a statement that the school’s practice is to not comment on pending or ongoing litigation.
“The university grieves the loss of our student Olivia Paregol, and we continue to keep her friends and family in our thoughts,” the statement added.
Loh and McBride could not be reached for comment.
In addition to the university’s handling of the adenovirus case on its campus, the lawsuit also points to the conditions in Elkton Hall, Paregol’s dorm, in claiming the university “intentionally failed” at providing a “safe and habitable” living space for students.
The suit alleges the university housed 570 students in the dorm despite its 530-student capacity limit, putting pressure on the dorm’s HVAC and air filtration systems.
The lawsuit says that this resulted in “excessive moisture (which) created an optimal situation for hazardous mold to grow on and behind the walls and ceilings of Elkton Hall.”
The lawsuit argues the university knew of mold growing in the dormitory before students moved in but alleges the university “directed maintenance workers to conceal the health threat by painting over mold that had grown over furniture.”
Soon after she moved into the dorm at college, Paregol noticed mold in her room and she and her roommate began to experience respiratory issues, according to the suit.
While mold does not cause adenovirus, it can cause respiratory issues and affect one’s immune system, according to the CDC.
“This doesn’t just affect Olivia, this affects the entire student body,” Doyle said of the allegations laid out in the lawsuit. “From the family’s standpoint, it’s about awareness.”
When allegations regarding the university’s handling of both the adenovirus outbreak and mold conditions in Elkton Hall surfaced after Paregol’s death, Gov. Larry Hogan called on the university to investigate the matter and the University of Maryland conducted a review of university procedure in 2019.
The review by external experts concluded that “no employee intentionally withheld or delayed disclosing pertinent information,” about the presence of mold or adenovirus on the university’s campus.
However, the report suggested reforms to the university’s emergency management systems as well as regular air sampling to test for mold, although such testing is not required by the federal Environmental Protection Agency or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.