The owner of a house declared by the state to have hazardous amounts of lead is not liable for a tenant’s lead poisoning, according to a Maine jury. Although state regulators declared the house to be hazardous, and state health officials confirmed that the child had lead poisoning, the jury concluded that the plaintiffs had not shown that the lead in the house was the proximate cause of the child’s damages. Lead is a common component of paints used in residences prior to 1978, and nearly all old houses in Maine have some amount of lead. Exposure can cause illness and, in sufficient amounts, developmental problems in children. Maine strictly regulates residences that contain lead, imposing disclosure duties on landlords and duties on contractors performing renovations to contain and mitigate lead contamination.
The plaintiffs rented a house in Solon from the defendant, Halsey McDonough, beginning in 2004. Their son, Levi, was born after they moved in. When he was about three years old, he was diagnosed with lead poisoning. The state’s Department of Health and Human Services and Levi’s pediatrician confirmed the diagnosis. The state’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention declared an “environmental lead hazard” in the house in November 2008 and issued a plan to abate the contamination. Levi and his two siblings reportedly suffered behavioral and developmental issues.
Levi’s parents sued McDonough in late 2009, alleging that Levi’s condition was the result of exposure to hazardous levels of lead in the rented house, and that McDonough never implemented the abatement plan. The case went to trial in Skowhegan in 2012. McDonough’s lawyer argued that, even if lead was present in the house, the evidence did not prove that the lead caused the child’s condition. She seemed to argue, based on her statements to the press, that the child’s condition was not a chronic condition resulting from toxic lead exposure. The jury appeared to agree with the defense, and returned a verdict on Tuesday, July 24 finding McDonough not responsible for Levi’s injuries.
Lead poisoning, which consists of the short- and long-term health effects of high concentrations of lead in one’s body, can cause damage to the kidneys, red blood cells, brain, and nervous system. In children, it can lead to permanent learning disabilities or even death. Exposure can come from lead-painted objects, such as windowsills or toys, when a child comes into contact with paint chips or dust. Such exposure becomes even more likely as lead paint degrades over time and paint chips and dust become more rampant. While the law provides remedies for people, particularly children, injured by exposure to lead, it requires proof of a causal connection between the exposure and the injury.
Maine law requires landlords to disclose the presence of lead paint to prospective tenants. It also requires property owners to take reasonable steps to remediate lead contamination during renovations or repairs. Contractors performing renovations must take precautions to contain any dust or debris that contains lead in order to prevent exposure to children. Identification and removal of lead paint requires a license from the state.
At Briggs & Wholey, we represent the rights of people who have been injured, or who have lost loved ones, because of someone’s negligent or unlawful conduct. To schedule a free and confidential consultation to discuss your case, contact us online or call toll-free at (888) 596-1099.
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Keep Maine Student Athletes Safe: High School Concussion Testing, Maine Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, July 13, 2012
Overweight Maine children more likely to sustain injuries in car crashes, Maine Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, January 6, 2009
Maine Children at Greater Risk for Cancer, Maine Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, June 4, 2008
Photo credit: ‘Old green wall’ by SSPIVAK on stock.xchng.