Maryland Plaintiff Appeals Verdict in Case Involving Intentional Lead Exposure Through Government-Funded Study

Businesses, as well as individuals, can be held accountable by law for injuries caused by their negligence.  In a March 22, 2017 decision, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland reviewed a personal injury case involving the plaintiff’s exposure to lead pursuant to a study conducted by the defendant.  Some of the claims against the defendant were dismissed by the lower court before trial, and a jury found in favor of the defendant on all of the remaining claims.  The plaintiff brought an appeal, arguing several grounds for reversal.

The defendant’s study, conducted from 1993 to 1999, was funded by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grants that were provided to evaluate and reduce lead-based paint hazards in housing.  The study involved research on the effectiveness of lead abatement measures in reducing lead contamination in homes, measured by the blood lead levels of minor children living in the homes that were part of the study.

A property group that, at the time, owned and managed approximately 200 low-income rental units in Baltimore City agreed to provide houses to be used for the study.  The plaintiff’s mother lived in one of the units and had signed a consent form that allowed the plaintiff (with whom she was pregnant at the time) to participate in the study.  Before the study commenced, the unit had tested positive for lead-based paint.  The defendant and property group paid for lead remediation work to be completed in the unit, which was intended to reduce but not completely remove all of the exposure to lead.  The unit did, however, pass Maryland’s post-abatement clearance standards at the time.  The plaintiff’s blood lead level rose steadily from when he was 11 months to three and a half years old while living in the unit and participating in the study.

On appeal, the plaintiff argued that judgment on the negligence claim under the Baltimore City Code was improper.  The plaintiff sought to establish the defendant’s negligence through a violation of the Baltimore City Code, but, in order to do so, she needed to demonstrate that the defendant was the operator of the unit, thereby subject to the Baltimore City Code.  The appeals court explained that “operator” in this context applied only to landlords or property managers, and since the defendant did not perform the activities of a landlord or property manager, the defendant was not an operator.

The remaining questions on appeal concerned evidentiary issues.  The appeals court found no error in the admission of dust-lead test results produced by the defendant’s vacuum sampler, since it is a generally accepted method for evaluating trends in levels of lead dust over time.  Although the court did find that another exhibit concerning dust-lead results was inadmissible, it concluded the error was harmless.  The court went on to hold that evidence of the prevalence of childhood lead poisoning in Baltimore City was not admitted in error.  Accordingly, the verdict was affirmed.

At the Maryland firm of Foran & Foran, P.A., our premises liability lawyers can help accident victims try to hold negligent people and businesses accountable for their actions.  We have represented individuals in personal injury and medical malpractice lawsuits, including cases arising from car and motorcycle accidents, slip and fall injuries, and more.   To learn more about your legal options from a qualified attorney, make an appointment by calling our office at (301) 441-2022 or contacting us online.

More Blog Posts:

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

Maryland Court Allows Plaintiff to Proceed in Lead Paint Lawsuit Against Property Owner, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published August 20, 2016

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