Fourth Circuit Apportions Damages Pro Rata in Maryland Lead Poisoning Case

A Baltimore girl’s $2 million jury verdict for toxic exposure to lead paint suffered a setback last month, when the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the insurance company for the realty company that owned the house where she lived would only be obligated to pay forty percent of the total judgment. She still stands to receive a substantial sum of money, but the court’s ruling cuts the amount she may realistically expect to collect.

Lakia Roberts lived at a house in Baltimore from 1991 to 1998. When she was only twenty months old in 1992, doctors diagnosed her with lead poisoning. She continued to exhibit elevated levels of lead in her blood until 1995. Lead poisoning can have serious health effects on children, including learning disabilities and kidney damage, according to the National Institutes of Health. Roberts and her mother filed a state lawsuit against Attsgood Realty Company in 2005, claiming that the company’s negligent management of the property where they lived caused her lead poisoning.

As we previously reported in this Maryland Accident Law Blog, a jury awarded Robert $2 million in 2009, consisting of $500,000 in actual damages and $1.5 million in non-economic damages. Due to a Maryland law that caps non-economic damages at $350,000, her total judgment was reduced to $850,000.

Attsgood had sought defense and indemnification from its liability insurer, Pennsylvania National Mutual Casualty Insurance Company, commonly known as Penn National. The company had issued an insurance policy to Attsgood with one year of coverage beginning on January 13, 1992, later extended by another year. Attsgood did not have liability coverage on the property before this date. Attsgood sold the property on November 1, 1993. The policy with Penn National stated that it would pay damages for bodily injury and property damage occurring during the term of the policy.

After the jury verdict in 2009, Penn National sought a declaratory judgment in federal court holding that it was only obligated to pay at most $340,000, that being forty percent of the judgment against Attsgood. It argued that, since Roberts’ claim was for ongoing damages occurring from her birth on January 17, 1991 until August 1995, when the lead in her blood reached normal levels, it should only be obligated pay pay for the damages that occurred after its coverage began on January 13, 1992 and before Attsgood sold the property in November 1993. Roberts argued that Penn National should be obligated to pay the full amount of the judgment.

The U.S. District Court in Baltimore found that the total amount of time Roberts was exposed to the lead paint was fifty-five months, from January 1992 to August 1995. It held that Penn National was obligated to pay for damages during its two years of liability coverage, or 24/55 of the total judgment. Both parties appealed, and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Penn National’s favor. Penn National had argued that, because Attsgood had sold the property in November 1993, it should not be obligated to pay for the last two months of coverage. The appeals court reduced the total amount owed by Penn National to 22/55 of the total, or $340,000.

The Maryland injury lawyers at Lebowitz & Mzhen represent people who have been injured by exposure to toxic substances like lead paint in homes. For a free and confidential consultation, contact us today online or at (800) 654-1949.

Web Resources:

Opinion (PDF), Pennsylvania National Mutual Casualty Insurance Co. vs. Lakia C. Roberts and Attsgood Realty Co., et al., Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, February 3, 2012

More Blog Posts:

Maryland Court Strikes Down State Lead Paint Law, Maryland Accident Law Blog, December 12, 2011
Lawsuit Alleges Deliberate Exposure of Baltimore Children to Lead Poisoning, Maryland Accident Law Blog, October 6, 2011
Baltimore’s Public Housing Authority Says It is “Not Possible” To Pay Judgments in Maryland Lead Poisoning Cases, Maryland Accident Law Blog, April 11, 2011

Contact Information