Maryland Landlords Lose Lead Poisoning Legal Shield

In a unanimous 7-to-0 vote, Maryland’s Court of Appeal ruled that the 1994 Reduction of Lead Risk in Housing Act provisions, which protected landlords from personal injury lawsuits when children or pregnant women ingested <"">lead-based paints, is unconstitutional. The Court found the provisions to be in violation of Article 19 of Maryland’s Declaration of Rights, said Law 360, forcing Maryland landlords to lose their lead poisoning shield.

State law in Maryland mandated that those landlords who registered their properties each year with the state and who also distributed pamphlets to their tenants on the risks of lead, would only be liable for no more than $17,000 in the event a child ingested lead-based paint and was poisoned or suffered permanent brain damage, said Law360. “For a child who is found to be permanently brain damaged from ingesting lead paint, proximately caused by the landlord’s negligence, the maximum amount of compensation under a qualified offer is minuscule,” Judge John C. Eldridge wrote on behalf of the court. “It is almost no compensation,” Judge Eldridge noted, said Law360.

The $17,000 figure was meant to ease some of the expenses as a result of lead poisoning was created to cover up to $7,500 for medical treatments and up to $9,500 for relocation benefits, said Law360. Judge Eldridge called the figures “totally inadequate and unreasonable.” The court did strike down landlord immunity, but it maintained that owners must register properties containing lead, said Law360. Landlords are also required to provide tenants with information on lead.

The case that led to the Maryland decision was initiated in 2002, when Zi’Tashia Jackson and her mother, Tameka Jackson, filed a lawsuit against The Dackman Co. and others in Baltimore, Maryland. The lawsuit, said Law360, was over two separate rental properties that Dackman managed. The lawsuit claimed that, starting in 1997, Zi’Tashia routinely swallowed paint chips on the rented properties and this led to her severe and permanent brain injuries, said Law360. In an affidavit, Jackson said the Dackman properties had peeling and chipping paint when the tenants moved in; calls to the landlords seeking repairs were never answered, wrote Law360.

The lawsuit moved up to the highest appellate court when lower courts sided with Dackman, said Law360. Jackson maintained that the immunity provisions were in violation of her rights to equal protection and due process of law and her right to a jury trial, Law360 explained. The case is Zi’Tashia Jackson et al. v. The Dackman Co. et al., case number 131/08, in the Court of Appeals of Maryland..

As we’ve long written, lead poisoning is the greatest environmental health threat to children under the age of 6 and occurs from swallowing lead (i.e. lead paint chips) or from breathing lead paint dust. Even small amounts of chipped lead paint or lead dust can be dangerous and children under the age of 6 face these great risks because their growing bodies absorb lead more easily than adult bodies do. A recent study revealed that childhood exposure to lead can lead to permanent brain damage.

In 1978, a federal ban was put in place prohibiting toys and other children’s articles from having more than 0.06 percent lead—by weight—in paints or surface coatings.

In children and fetuses, lead exposure can cause brain and nervous system damage, behavioral and learning problems, slowed growth, hearing problems, headaches, mental and physical retardation, and behavioral and other health problems. Lead is known to cause cancer and reproductive harm and, in adults, can damage the nervous system. Once poisoned by lead, no organ system is immune. Lead poisoning is difficult to recognize because it manifests with subtle symptoms and there are no definitive indicators that point to contamination. When faced with peculiar symptoms that do not match any one particular disease, lead poisoning should be considered.

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