Maryland Jury awards $5.1 million in lead-poisoning case State's statutory cap on noneconomic damages will reduce award to $1.25M

By Steve Lash

The Daily Record Newswire

BOSTON -- A Baltimore jury has awarded $5.1 million to a brain-damaged woman who spent nine of the first 12 years of her life in a rented home with flaking lead-based paint.

The award to 20-year-old Brittany S. Hazelwood includes $4.2 million in compensation for her pain and suffering and $900,000 in compensation for her economic losses.

The $4.2 million is expected to be reduced to $350,000 under Maryland's statutory cap on noneconomic damages, for a total recovery of $1.25 million, according to Hazelwood's attorney, Bruce H. Powell.

The jury deliberated for two hours Sept. 8 before finding landlord City Homes Inc. negligent for failing to remove chipped and flaking lead-based paint at 4 N. Stockton St., where Hazelwood lived from 1993 until 2002.

The jury also held the company liable under the Maryland Consumer Protection Act for misrepresenting to Hazelwood's parents and maternal grandmother, who rented the property, that the home was "safe and fit for human habitation and did not expose [the girl] to unreasonable danger or risk to life, health and safety," in the words of the lawsuit.

Powell called Baltimore-based City Homes an established owner and manager of rental properties that should have known better than to rent a home with chipping paint and not respond to the renters' complaints about the dangerous condition.

"This was not a mom-and-pop operation," said Powell, of the Law Offices of Peter T. Nicholl in Baltimore. "This was a very sophisticated operation with experienced people running it."

Powell alleged that City Homes answered the family's complaints by telling them to clean the house and repaint it themselves, which the lawyer added was not an "appropriate" response.

"What the landlord should be doing is hiring somebody experienced in lead abatement and removal," Powell said. Rental properties "don't have to be a palace but they do have to be kept up and they [City Homes] weren't doing this."

Powell said that City Homes' last out-of-court settlement offer was $125,000.

City Homes' attorney, William C. Parler Jr., did not return telephone messages seeking comment. Parler is with Parler & Wobber LLP in Towson, Md.

The four-day trial featured testimony that Hazelwood's lead level was measured at 8 micrograms per deciliter on April 8, 1993, when she was 2 and a half years old and was not living at 4 N. Stockton St.

Blood-lead levels of 10 or higher are considered to be lead poisoning by the American Academy of Pediatrics and a "cause for concern" by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

On July 16, 1993, about two weeks after moving into the house, the girl's blood level had risen to 16, and in August 1994, it was measured at 21, Powell said.

Hazelwood's counsel presented testimony at trial that the lead exposure limited her IQ to 90 and caused cognitive deficits, learning disabilities and behavior problems.

The lawsuit, filed in May 2009, alleged that City Homes "knew or had reason to know of the existence of the chipping, flaking and peeling lead-based paint in the property ... and of the inherently unreasonable danger to which the plaintiff was exposed. Despite notice and a reasonable opportunity to correct the defective condition of the property, the defendant failed to take any action to warn of, to repair or to otherwise make safe the defective and hazardous condition."

City Homes denied the allegations.

Powell said the jury's $900,000 award in economic damages reflects his requested compensation for Hazelwood's loss of future earnings. The lawyer added that he did not seek compensation for medical expenses because those costs were paid not by the family but by federal and state insurance programs.

Published: Fri, Sep 16, 2011


  1. No comments
Sign in to post a comment »