Maryland Court Evaluates Circumstantial Evidence in Lead Paint Case

In a recent opinion, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland addressed the issue of whether summary judgment against the plaintiff was properly granted in a lead paint case. In Griffin v. Jontiff (Md. Ct. Spec. App. Apr. 25, 2016), the plaintiff brought a negligence claim against several defendants, alleging that she sustained personal injuries as a result of exposure to lead-based paint while residing in various properties.

In a Maryland lawsuit alleging exposure to lead-based paint, the plaintiff must show that the defendant was under a duty to protect the plaintiff from injury, the defendant breached that duty, the plaintiff suffered an actual injury or loss, and the loss or injury proximately resulted from the defendant’s breach of the duty. To prove the causation element of negligence in a lead paint case, the plaintiff must introduce evidence to establish that the property contained lead-based paint, and that the lead-based paint at the property was a substantial contributor to the plaintiff’s exposure to lead. The plaintiff may prove causation through direct evidence, as well as circumstantial evidence, as long as the circumstantial evidence creates a reasonable likelihood or probability (rather than a possibility) supporting a rational inference of causation, and it is not wholly speculative.

In Griffin, there was no direct evidence of the presence of lead-based paint in the property at issue. The plaintiff, however, argued that there was sufficient circumstantial evidence, based on the fact that she lived at the property for two years, there was no evidence of any significant environmental or other source of exposure to lead at this time, the property contained flaking and chipping paint, and her blood lead levels failed to decline at the expected rate, absent further exposure to lead. The plaintiff also presented testimony from an expert who opined that her elevated lead levels were caused by her exposure to lead in the property at issue.

On appeal, the court explained that it is not enough for an expert to conclude that a certain property is the source of the lead exposure when other probable sources have not been eliminated. When a plaintiff relies on expert testimony and a chain of inferences, the plaintiff must eliminate other reasonably probable sources of lead to establish that the property at issue was a substantial contributor to the plaintiff’s lead exposure. The court noted that at the time the plaintiff resided at the subject property, she was also visiting or residing at several other properties, and the plaintiff’s expert included those properties as additional contributors to her lead exposure. As a result, the court found that the plaintiff failed to rule out other reasonably probable sources of lead during the time that she resided at the subject property, an element necessary to establish causation. The court therefore affirmed the lower court’s summary judgment ruling.

The Maryland injury attorneys at Foran & Foran, P.A. represent victims in personal injury lawsuits brought against negligent parties. We handle cases involving car accidents, medical malpractice, workers’ compensation, and many others. To schedule a consultation with one of our experienced attorneys, contact us at (301) 441-2022 or online.

More Blog Posts:

Plaintiff Wins Appeal in Maryland Lead Paint Case, Summary Judgment Reversed, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published October 4, 2015

Maryland Court of Special Appeals Addresses Discovery Issue in Lead Paint Suit, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published July 31, 2015

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