April 11, 2002 -- Johnny Carson's sidekick has found little to laugh at lately. His dog died, his family has been sick and he's blaming the insurance company.
Ed McMahon, 79, claims the insurance company botched a simple repair on a broken pipe. As a result, he says, a black toxic mold spread through his 8,000-square-foot, six-bedroom Beverly Hills mansion.
In a lawsuit filed this week, the entertainer is seeking $20 million from American Equity Insurance Co., two insurance adjusters and several environmental cleanup contractors.
"It started with a broken water pipe, which is not a big deal," said McMahon's lawyer, Allan Browne. "It turned into a horrific nightmare that only Stephen King could write about."
A spokeswoman for the insurance company declined to comment.
Den Flooded in July
McMahon says the pipe exploded last July in his home, flooding his den. The company arranged to clean up the mess, but McMahon's lawsuit says the contractors simply painted over the mold — known in the germ community as stachybotrus chartarum — and didn't give McMahon any reports about the infestation.
Soon after the incident, McMahon says he and his wife became seriously ill, and their sheepdog, Muffin, developed respiratory problems and died.
"This is a death mold," Brown said. "It can cause respiratory illness — or even death."
The McMahons moved out in September under doctor's orders after experts found a high concentration of the mold in the master bedroom.
Making matters even worse, McMahon says he is still waiting for personal memorabilia that he stored to be returned to him from another insurance company.
The McMahons have moved into temporary digs, at $23,000 a month. They're suing for physical injuries, emotional distress, and expenses they've incurred.
Their home will need considerable work before it's habitable again, their lawyer says.
"It looks like a mob descended upon the house, tore it apart and left," Brown said.
ABCNEWS Radio's David Alpert reporting from Los Angeles and Buck Wolf in New York contributed to this report.