Baltimore’s public housing authority has paid $3.7 million to a former resident who suffered lead poisoning from lead-paint exposure as a young child.
Maryland’s Housing Authority of Baltimore City (HABC) said that Monday’s (Aug. 6) payment to Markeath Justice, now 29, is the largest payment it has made in a lead-paint case thus far.
|The Baltimore public housing authority says it faces $900 million in pending lead-paint claims.|
However, Justice is still owed $2.1 million to cover his 2008 jury award of $5.7 million. According to his attorney, Justice cannot read.
“This has been a long, hard road to say the least, and we are glad to find some level of resolution for what this plaintiff has suffered,” Baltimore Housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano said in a release.
“HABC will continue to work hard to resolve lead paint judgments in a fair and responsible way, while protecting public funds needed for the thousands of vulnerable low-income housing families.”
Lead Paint in Baltimore
Lead paint in older housing has become a flashpoint in Baltimore and the state of Maryland.
The housing authority’s inability or unwillingness to pay judgments in lead-paint cases has also fueled sharp criticism, according to reports in the Baltimore Sun.
Despite obstacles, HABC said it has paid nearly $4.6 million to victims associated with four judgments.
The authority currently faces eight unresolved judgments, with two under appeal. The price tag for those totals more than $3.5 million, HABC said.
Additionally, the federally funded housing authority said it faces $900 million in claims related to lead-paint exposure, with an open-ended timeframe for filing additional claims.
The current and potential judgments could bankrupt the nation’s fifth-largest housing authority, Graziano told the Sun.
In January, the housing authority saw one legal triumph in a lead paint case, as an appeals court reversed a $2.5 million judgment, putting the brakes on seizure of authority assets to pay for the judgment.
That case involved two siblings who said they were exposed to lead paint when they lived in public housing in the 1990s.
Old Exposures, New Claims
While many lead-paint lawsuits have been filed only in recent years, they involve events that predate Maryland’s lead-poisoning-prevention law, which took effect in 1996, HABC said. The authority says it has fully complied with that law and now provides lead-safe housing to 25,000 low-income households.
The magnitude of HABC’s lead-paint caseload is unique, the authority said in a statement. “Other housing authorities have not experienced the high volume of cases or the large size of the judgments.”
|The housing authority will continue to work hard to resolve lead-paint judgments, said Baltimore Housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano.|
Maryland law allows child victims of lead-paint poisoning to file lawsuits until age 21. But when the landlord is a local government, as with the housing authority, the 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 authority has said that it cannot pay lead-poisoning victims without approval from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which funds the agency, the Sun relates.
Justice for Justice
Funding for the Justice judgment, however, did not involve federal funds. In that case, HABC successfully pursued a claim against a now-insolvent insurance company to pay the judgment.
HABC said it had a general liability insurance policy with Integrity Insurance Company from 1981 to 1985, which covered lead-paint claims for occurrences during those years. Justice’s exposure to lead paint occurred in the mid-1980s.
In 1987, a New Jersey court declared the insurance company insolvent. Nevertheless, “for several years, HABC aggressively pursued a claim against the insurance company to honor its policy coverage,” HABC said.
Upholding its Obligations?
Justice’s attorney, Brian S. Brown, told the Sun that the availability of insurance money contradicts the housing authority’s claim that it could not obtain insurance coverage for lead-paint liability. Moreover, Brown said $2.5 million in interest had accumulated since his client’s jury award.
“I’m gratified that one client was able to obtain a portion of the verdict which was obtained on his behalf in court,” Brown said.
“On the other hand, I’m extremely disappointed and frustrated that the housing authority is not living up to its agreed-upon obligation to pay not only this judgment but the consent judgments that are still outstanding.”
Brown represents five other clients who are owed judgments from the housing authority, he said.