Lead paint is toxic and has a number of dangerous effects on unborn infants and children. The risk of unwittingly being exposed to lead paint is particularly high in older houses. Symptoms of lead poisoning include behavioral problems, anemia, headaches, and impacts on the brain.
In a recent lead paint case, a couple sued individually and for their three minor children in connection with damages suffered due to lead paint. The family had moved into a house they rented. Soon after moving in, their children had medical tests that showed they had elevated blood lead levels. The mother performed a home lead test, which showed the presence of lead in the paint.
The landlord denied there was any lead on the property, claiming the test results came about because of diesel trucks traveling nearby. The couple continued to live there with their children. Their third child was born in the house in 2006. In 2008, blood tests showed the third child had an elevated blood lead level.
The Department of Health and Human Services got involved under Maine law. The Department tested for lead and found several lead hazards in the house. The Department told the landlord he had to relocate the family.
Relocation didn’t go well. The landlord wouldn’t pay for the process. The family had to continue living in the house for months but cordoned off certain rooms to prevent the lead paint dust from spreading.
The family sued the following autumn, claiming that the lead paint had injured their children. The family sought recovery based on negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and also sought punitive damages. The court prevented the family from presenting certain pieces of expert testimony at trial. After the family presented its evidence at trial, the owner moved for judgment as a matter of law on the claim of negligence.
The court granted judgment for the owner as to the two older children on the grounds that there wasn’t enough evidence to causally connect their health condition to the lead paint. It also granted judgment as a matter of law on the intentional infliction of emotional distress count as to all three children, based on its determinations that the owner’s conduct wasn’t extreme and the children didn’t have emotional distress. Judgment was also granted to the landlord on the punitive damages count.
The court allowed the youngest child’s negligence claims to proceed because it believed there was a stronger causal connection between the youngest child’s condition and his lead exposure. However, the jury did not find the landlord’s negligence the proximate or legal cause of the child’s injury.
The family appealed. It argued that the court had abused its discretion in failing to permit expert testimony on proximate causation and by ruling as a matter of law they hadn’t proved causation in connection with the older children’s claim. The two expert witnesses were a toxicologist and a brain injury treatment specialist.
The court prevented the first expert from testifying about the children suffering lead poisoning and prevented the second expert from testifying about the lead exposure as causation for the children’s health issues. The judge didn’t find the experts sufficiently reliable because they didn’t have medical degrees.
The appellate court explained that a toxicologist’s role is to testify on causation. It found the exclusion to be clear error.
Similarly, the brain injury specialist had worked under neurologists and psychiatrists and run treatment programs for people with brain injuries. He had described how lead was absorbed, how it damaged the brain, and how the children’s injuries would affect their lives in the future.
The appellate court found the trial court’s exclusion in error because the doctor relied on scientific principles with which he was clearly familiar. Any challenge to his qualifications was an issue of weight rather than admissibility. The jury should have been able to hear this expert’s testimony.
Among other rulings in the plaintiff’s favor, the appellate court found that the owner had affirmatively misrepresented that there was no lead in the house, which could be sufficient for a jury to have found implied malice and awarded punitive damages. The appellate court awarded a new trial.
If your children are hurt because of lead paint, an experienced personal injury attorney may be able to help you recover the compensation you deserve. At Briggs & Wholey, our knowledgeable attorneys are available to answer any questions you may have. To schedule a free consultation with an experienced advocate, please contact Briggs & Wholey, LLC at (888) 596-1099 or through our website today.
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