An appeals court in Maryland has reversed a $2.5 million lead-paint judgment against Baltimore’s housing authority, putting the brakes on seizure of housing-authority assets to pay for the judgment.
|Lead paint in older housing has become a flashpoint in Baltimore and the state of Maryland, and the city housing authority faces $12 million in current legal judgments related to lead-paint exposure.|
The appeals court said the suit was filed more than a decade after the alleged lead-paint poisoning occurred, and as a result failed to comply with guidelines on actions filed in connection with housing authority properties.
The suit was filed in 2007, and alleged that two siblings were exposed to lead paint when they lived in public housing in the 1990s. The plaintiffs won their case in a 2010 jury verdict in Baltimore Circuit Court, but the Maryland Court of Special Appeals overturned the $2.5 million verdict last week.
The attorney for the plaintiffs, David F. Albright Jr., told the Baltimore Sun he would “seek relief by the Court of Appeals and continue to fight for the children.” The plaintiffs are siblings Antonio Fulgham, now 21, and his sister, Brittany McCutcheon, 20.
The verdict against the Housing Authority of Baltimore City (HABC) had led to legal actions aimed at seizing 20 housing authority vehicles to help pay for the judgment. The housing authority had stated that it “does not have the means or independent authority to pay.”
“HABC is pleased that this decision effectively ends those efforts,” the housing authority said in a statement on the appeals court decision.
“HABC is committed to addressing lead paint judgments in a fair and responsible way; however, we also have responsibility to defend against unfounded lawsuits to protect limited resources for the 50,000 low-income housing residents we serve today,” said HABC Executive Director Paul Graziano. “Of course we remain deeply concerned about anyone who may have suffered any injury as a result of lead paint poisoning.”
Hot-Button Issue in State, City
Lead paint in older housing has become a hotly debated issue recently in Baltimore and the state of Maryland. The city housing authority faces $12 million in current legal judgments related to lead-paint exposure, but the agency says an additional 175 pending claims carry a potential total price tag of $1 billion.
In a statement on the lead-paint litigation issue, the housing authority said a review of other similar agencies has found that the number of pending cases and judgments it faces are “unique,” and that other housing authorities “have not experienced either the high volume of cases or the large size of the judgments.”
State law in Maryland allows child plaintiffs in lead-paint poisoning cases to file lawsuits until they are 21 years old. But in cases where the landlord is a local government, as with the housing authority, the government agency must be notified of the harm caused by the poisoning and of the intent to sue within 180 days after the harm is caused.
Cases pending before the Court of Appeals argue that the 180-day rule is unreasonable, according to news reports.
The Court of Appeals ruling put the brakes on attempts to seize housing authority vehicles as part of the plaintiffs’ pursuit of collection of the judgment. Sheriff’s officers had actually begun tagging vehicles targeted for seizure.
A report on the appeals-courts ruling in the Baltimore Sun said advocates for victims of lead-paint poisoning fear the decision could hinder compensation of victims of such hazards.
“I hope the city will continue to pursue a reasonable remedy,” Ruth Ann Norton, executive director of the Baltimore-based nonprofit Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning (www.leadsafe.org), said in the Sun story.
“We think the city should honor the trial decisions … and shouldn't say to kids, ‘We're opting out because of technicalities in the law.’”
The controversy surrounding lead-paint lawsuits and related political and legal issues in Maryland has received extensive coverage in the Sun. Recent reports include Auction of housing authority vehicles must proceed, lawyer says; Md. Court strikes down landlord protection in lead paint law; and Councilman seeks federal backing to push city on lead-paint payments.
Lead-paint litigation in Baltimore also is the subject of the D+D News story Senator Launches Probe of Hefty Lawyer Bills for Lead-Paint Cases in Baltimore.