In a victory for lead-poisoning victims, Maryland’s top court Monday unanimously struck down as unconstitutional a statutory provision that immunized landlords from liability if they registered their property with the state environmental agency and offered payments of $17,000 to children at risk of lead poisoning.
The Court of Appeals, in its 7-0 decision, called the immunity provision and $17,000 offer “totally inadequate and unreasonable” to remedy the harm done to children permanently brain damaged due to their ingestion of lead-based paint in a rental property.
“For a child who is found to be permanently brain damaged from ingesting lead paint, proximately caused by the landlord’s negligence, the maximum amount of compensation under a qualified offer is minuscule,” retired Judge John C. Eldridge wrote for the high court. “It is almost no compensation.”
Thus, the provision — found in the 1994 Reduction of Lead Risk in Housing Act — violated Article 19 of the Maryland Constitution, which grants individuals the rights of access to the courts and to a remedy for their injuries, the court added.
The Court of Appeals’ decision, rendered nearly two-and-a-half years after it heard arguments in the case, revives a $5 million lawsuit the family of Zi’Tashia Jackson brought against their former landlord, The Dackman Co.
The family alleges the company’s failure to keep the residence free of lead-based paint caused the girl to suffer brain damage. Lower courts had dismissed the lawsuit after concluding that Dackman had immunity because it had complied with the act’s registration and payment-offer requirement.