Maryland’s Court of Appeals issued a ruling in late October that strikes down a state law shielding rental property owners from liability to their tenants for lead paint exposure if those owners could show they took precautions to protect children from such exposure. The unanimous ruling held that the statute violated the Maryland Constitution by denying victims of lead paint poisoning their day in court. The court left the regulatory portions of the law in place.
Maryland enacted the law in question, the Reduction of Lead Risk in Housing Act, in 1994 as a compromise after lengthy negotiations between public health advocates and property owners. Lead paint poisoning had once been a huge problem for children in Maryland, particularly in Baltimore, but advocates of the law claim the rate of lead poisoning has decreased by 98 percent since the law passed. The law requires owners of rental properties built prior to 1950 to register with the Maryland Department of the Environment and to take steps to remediate lead content in their properties, such as by removing known lead-painted surfaces and removing lead dust. The Department of the Environment states that around 73,000 rental units are registered, nearly all built before 1950. Baltimore banned lead inside homes in 1950, and the rest of the state followed in 1978.
The troublesome portion of the law involves the liability of rental property owners to their tenants when exposure does occur. If a property owner has complied with the regulatory provisions of the law, their liability is limited to $17,000, which might cover the costs of relocating to a lead-free residence but does not compensate for injuries that can last a lifetime. Exposure to lead-based paint can cause severe injuries, including brain damage.
The lawsuit, Jackson v. Dackman Co., et al, sought damages for brain damage allegedly suffered by ZiTashia Jackson when she ingested lead-based paint while residing at two different addresses in Baltimore, both owned by the Dackman Company. According to the complaint, the lease did not note chipping or flaking paint or other similar hazards, but both were rampant in both apartments. The tenants allegedly complained to the landlord, but no repairs occurred. Since the property owners had registered with the state and undertaken remediation efforts, its liability was limited by the statute, cutting off the plaintiffs’ claims for negligence and deceptive trade practices. The defendants obtained summary judgment, the plaintiffs appealed, and the case made its way to the Court of Appeals.
The plaintiffs argued to the Court of Appeals that the portions of the law shielding landlords from liability for injuries violated Article 19 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights, which provides that everyone should have “remedy by the course of the Law of the land” for injuries to their “person or property.” In short, everyone should get their day in court. The Court of Appeals agreed with the plaintiffs on this issue and ruled in their favor. This frees people injured due to lead paint exposure to seek full compensation for their injuries in court.
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.
Opinion by J. Eldridge (PDF), Zi’Tashia Jackson v. The Dackman Company, et al, In the Court of Appeals of Maryland, October 24, 2011
More Blog Posts:
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
Maryland Jury Awards $2.5 Million Baltimore Lead Paint Verdict to Siblings, Maryland Accident Law Blog, November 5, 2009