Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Lead paint lawsuit targets Kennedy Krieger

Two Baltimore lawyers have filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of at least 75 families they say were poisoned while participating in a lead-paint abatement study performed by the Kennedy Krieger Institute in the mid-1990s.

Thomas F. Yost Jr. of The Yost Legal Group and William H. Murphy Jr. of Murphy PA filed the suit yesterday in Baltimore City Circuit Court, naming as the sole defendant the prestigious medical institute that treats children with disabilities.

Their complaint alleges that a host of low-income families who participated in the study were enticed under false pretenses into living in houses that had been only partially cleaned of lead — not cleaned to the standards of the Baltimore City code.

“The purpose of the lawsuit is to seek compensation for the children who were poisoned after their families were lied to,” Yost said.

This is not the first time its lead paint abatement studies have landed Kennedy Krieger in court. A decade ago, the state’s highest court said the institute could be sued by research participants who claimed they were not given enough information before signing consent forms.

Yost said the plaintiffs in three lawsuits before this one have voluntarily dismissed their claims against Kennedy Krieger.

According to the latest complaint, the “Lead-based Paint Abatement and Repair and Maintenance Study in Baltimore” — funded by the EPA and designed and carried out by Kennedy Krieger — placed 125 families into five strata of housing.

Twenty-five families were placed in a control group and lived in housing built after lead-based paint was discontinued. Another 25 were placed in houses with lead paint that had been fully abated — that is, cleaned to the standards of the city code.

The remaining 75 were evenly divided into three categories of “partially-abated” housing, in which $1,650, $3,500 or $6,000-$7,000 worth of repairs had been done to minimize lead exposure.

Lead levels of the children who lived in the housing were then sampled regularly by Kennedy Krieger.

The 75 families in the partially abated housing are the core of Yost and Murphy’s complaint, which calls them “guinea pigs” in an experiment to see how little abatement a landlord could do before their young tenants’ lead levels rose.

‘Wrongly placed blame’

Kennedy Krieger responded to the lawsuit with a statement, saying that in the years leading up to the study, 95 percent of the housing in Baltimore’s low-income neighborhoods was laced with lead.

The purpose of the study, the institute’s statement said, was to improve lead safety in children’s homes and monitor the effectiveness of different lead-reduction methods.

“The lawyers have wrongly placed blame on our Institute,” Kennedy Krieger CEO Gary Goldstein said in the statement. “This research was conducted in the best interest of all of the children enrolled and we are confident that this will come to light when the facts are presented.”

But the complaint filed Thursday says the lead plaintiff, David Armstrong Jr., and the rest of the class were permanently injured as children by a study that intentionally put them at risk for lead poisoning and that their parents were not informed of those risks.

“The families of the child research subjects were led to believe that by participating in the [Repair and Maintenance] study their children would receive treatment for lead poisoning and that they would be referred to housing that was free of lead-based paint hazards,” the complaint reads.

The lawsuit contends that the parents were never told that the lead paint abatements performed on their homes might only have been “partial.”

The plaintiffs have requested a jury trial.

In its 2001 decision, Grimes v. Kennedy Krieger, the Court of Appeals originally likened the study to the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. However, it later scaled back its criticism in a revised opinion.

At the time, the institute defended the study as a quest for economically viable alternatives for abating lead, with the ultimate goal being to make abatement more affordable and therefore more common.