Maryland Plaintiffs Defeat Summary Judgment Order on Appeal in Personal Injury Case

The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland reviewed a personal injury claim involving exposure to lead-based paint, ultimately ruling in favor of the plaintiffs.  In Murphy v. Ellison (Md. Ct. Spec. App. Aug. 23, 2016), the plaintiffs sued the owners of a building in which they resided from 1992 through 1995.  They alleged that the defendants failed to keep the property free of any flaking, loose, or peeling lead-based paint, and the lead-based paint exposure resulted in permanent brain injuries to their children.  The circuit court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, finding that the plaintiffs had failed to produce direct or circumstantial evidence of any lead-based paint hazards at the property.  The plaintiffs subsequently brought their appeal before the higher court.

In Baltimore, the housing code establishes minimum standards for building maintenance, and it provides that all walls, ceilings, woodwork, doors, and windows must be free of any flaking, loose, or peeling paint to protect children from lead-based paint poisoning.  In negligence actions based on the housing code that involve lead exposure, as in Murphy, the plaintiff must show that the defendant violated the code and that the defendant’s negligence was a substantial factor in causing the victim’s injury.  Specifically, the element of causation requires evidence that the property at issue contained lead-based paint, and it was a substantial contributor to the victim’s exposure to lead.  This can be proven by either direct or circumstantial evidence.  In a typical circumstantial case, as in Murphy, the plaintiffs attempt to show that they had elevated blood-lead levels while living at the property, and there were no other reasonably probable sources of their exposure to lead.

In Murphy, the plaintiffs presented testimony from a lead-risk assessment expert, who opined that the property more likely than not contained deteriorated lead-based paint.  Noting that the lower court did not appear to consider this testimony, the appeals court found that it could establish that the doors or windows at the defendants’ property had lead-based paint at the time the plaintiffs lived there.  In addition, the plaintiffs offered the deposition of a medical expert, who concluded that the most likely and the most substantial source of the lead in the children’s blood would have been at the defendants’ property, but it was impossible to completely rule out some exposure at other properties.  The appeals court explained that under a recent Maryland ruling, a lead paint plaintiff need not completely eliminate all other possible sources of exposure but need only rule out other reasonably probable sources.  Accordingly, the court reversed that aspect of the lower court’s decision.

Finally, the plaintiffs argued that their personal testimony regarding the paint within the property as well as the 2013 lead inspection report was sufficient to demonstrate a lead-based paint hazard at the property.  The appeals court agreed, finding that at the summary judgment stage, all reasonable inferences must be taken in favor of the plaintiffs.  The court therefore held that the plaintiffs presented enough evidence to move forward with their case, and it reversed the summary judgment order.

An experienced personal injury lawyer can help you prepare for the distinct challenges posed by lead-based paint cases.  At Foran & Foran, P.A., our premises liability attorneys have represented Maryland residents in complex personal injury litigation, including cases based on medical malpractice, automobile and motorcycle collisions, and other accidents.  If you would like to learn more about your legal options, schedule an appointment with a member of our team by calling (301) 441-2022 or contacting Foran & Foran online.

More Blog Posts:

Maryland Court Evaluates Circumstantial Evidence in Lead Paint Case, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published June 12, 2016

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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