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Jury Awards $350K in Lead Paint Suit

Thursday, July 30, 2015

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A Providence, RI, jury has awarded more than $350,000 to a 19-year-old who suffered permanent brain damage after exposure to lead paint as a toddler.

The verdict was returned July 24 in Superior Court after a two-weeklong trial against landlord Duncan Duff, a Florida resident.

The case was brought in 2010 by Wendy Claiborne on behalf of her daughter, Traecina, who now lives in Massachusetts.

lead paint
©iStock.com / Hoppyard

The Claiborne's rental housing in Pawtucket contained lead-based paint, according to the trial details. The property owner was found negligent in concealing or failing to disclose the presence of lead-based paint. The image above does not reflect the property at issue in this case.

Claiborne said her daughter was exposed to “dangerous, hazardous and illegal levels of lead-based paint, plaster and materials” while living in an apartment in Pawtucket, RI, owned by Duff, according to a news release issued by the family’s attorney, Motley Rice.  

The family lived in the home between March and July 1998. Traecina was diagnosed with lead poisoning that year, according to the law firm.

The jury found that the landlord negligently concealed or failed to disclose the presence of lead-based paint in the apartment and that the lead was responsible for Traecina’s health issues, reports said.

Elevated Blood Lead Levels

According to the testimony, testing performed in July 1998 found the child’s blood lead levels ranged from 19 μg/dL (micrograms per deciliter) to a peak of 51 μg/dL.

At that time, the Centers for Disease Control said blood lead levels of 10 μg/dL or more was a level of concern.

During an inspection performed by the Rhode Island Department of Health, lead paint hazards were found throughout the apartment, according to the Providence Journal.

In August 1998, Duff was issued a notice of violation of the state Lead Poisoning Prevention Act, the report said

“While this poisoning occurred more than 17 years ago, the effect on Traecina’s daily life is still evident today and will unfortunately continue for the rest of her life,” according to Motley Rice. “She now suffers from brain injuries and IQ loss.”

‘Historic Victory’

The jury awarded the young woman $120,000 in compensatory damages as well as $5,000 in punitive damages. Final judgment totals, with interest, were over $350,000, according to the law firm.

child at window
©iStock.com / bhigh216

At least 4 million households still have children who are exposed to high levels of lead, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I commend my mother for doing everything in her power to try to protect me growing up,” Traecina said in a statement. “I know it was heart-breaking for her that she couldn’t protect me from our home and the lead in it.

“The jury’s verdict is a relief for not only me and my family, but hopefully it can also help prevent children like me from being lead poisoned.”

The Childhood Lead Action Project reports that the outcome is “historic.”

“This is the only lead poisoning personal injury case we know of that has had a public trial in Rhode Island in the last two decades, if not longer,” the nonprofit said in a release.

Appeal Considered

Duff’s attorney, Albin Moser, said evidence presented at trial failed to prove that the source of Claiborne's lead poisoning was the apartment.

“We’re considering an appeal,” Moser told the Providence Journal.

Duff reportedly bought, renovated, rented and sold more than 100 properties in Rhode Island.

Prior to 1998, Duff had conducted a lead-abatement project at another property, guided by a comprehensive lead inspection and compliance monitoring, the Childhood Lead Action Project said.

Lead Risks

Although lead paint was banned in 1978 in the United States, at least 4 million households still have children who are exposed to high levels of lead, according to the CDC.

About a half-million U.S. children ages 1-5 have blood lead levels above 5 µg/dL, the current threshold at which CDC recommends public health actions.

No amount of lead in the blood is considered safe, the CDC says.

   

Tagged categories: Contractors; EPA; Health and safety; Laws and litigation; Lead; Lead Disclosure Rule; Lead test kits; Renovation

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