Martica Douglas recently won a jury verdict for the defendant in a lead poisoning case. The firm’s client was a landlord who was sued by former tenants claiming that their three children had suffered neurocognitive damage caused by exposure to lead paint in the rental property– a single family house built in the late 1800s and located in the small town of Solon, Maine.
One of the children had been found to have an elevated blood level, high enough to trigger an environmental inspection by the state lead inspector, who found “lead hazards” in the form of deteriorated paint in the house and ordered an abatement.
Expert testimony regarding proximate cause was introduced by both sides. The defense argued that there was no way to identify lead as a substantial cause of the children’s developmental delays and behavioral problems given 1) the many factors influencing child development; 2) the relatively modest blood lead levels detected in plaintiffs’ children; and 3) the fact that many children exhibit developmental-behavioral issues who have not been exposed to lead.
The jury found that Mr. McDonough was not negligent, presumably because the evidence showed that the paint in rental property was in good shape when the plaintiffs took possession. This meant that the deteriorated state of the paint had occurred as a result of the tenants’ own wear and tear. The state lead inspector testified that all old houses in Maine contain lead paint, as it was not taken off the market until 1978 and that lead paint is not hazardous if it’s in good condition or coated with latex. This house contained no more lead paint than the houses most Mainers were raised in. The jury understood this- undoubtedly, many jurors had grown up in houses containing lead paint.
The jury also rejected Plaintiffs’ claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress and punitive damages.
Interestingly, this is the second time this case was tried to a jury. The first trial also resulted in a verdict for the defense. The plaintiffs appealed, and the Maine Law Court granted the appeal based on limitations the trial judge had placed on the scope of expert opinion testimony.