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Cousins share $565K lead-paint verdict

A Baltimore jury has awarded $565,000 to two cousins who claimed they were poisoned by lead-based paint in their former East Baltimore rowhouse.

The jury of five women and one man awarded Damon Colkley Jr. a total of $465,000 and Delshawnda Cromer a total of $100,000, according to one of their lawyers.

The awards for Colkley, now 18, and Cromer, 22, includes $260,000 in noneconomic damages, below the statutory cap on such damages.

Both Colkley and Cromer lived in the house, in the 1300 block of North Central Avenue, from the time they were born through 1999, according Nicholas A. Szokoly, of the Law Offices of Evan K. Thalenberg P.A. in Baltimore.

The cousins each had elevated levels of lead in their blood, according the lawsuit filed in Baltimore City Circuit Court in November 2012.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control, in the late 1990s, considered a blood-lead level above 10 to be a cause for concern. Colkley’s level peaked at 27, while Cromer’s level reached 35, according to Szokoly. (As of July 2012, the CDC changed the level for children. It now says there is no safe level for lead exposure in children, and considers a blood-lead level of 5 to indicate that a child requires case management.)

Colkley was placed in special education classes by the fifth grade and never completed high school, Szokoly said. He has not been able to work despite applying for jobs, Szokoly added.

Cromer wanted to become a nurse after graduating at the bottom of her high school class, Szokoly said. But she dropped out of Bowie State University, was kicked out of Coppin State University and was unable to finish massage therapy school, he said.

Neither side disputed during the 10-day trial that the cousins had lead poisoning, according to Szokoly. But lawyers for landlord Stewart Levitas argued the source could have been the soil or water supply to the house.

William C. Parler Jr., a lawyer for Levitas, also said in his closing argument that Colkley and Cromer have “average IQs” and that Colkley also suffered from depression.

“What we have here are two young individuals who are just starting out their adult life,” Parler, of Parler & Wobber LLC in Towson. “And just like any young adult, they’re struggling to find the path that they would like to follow.”

But the plaintiffs’ lawyers countered the house was cited by the city for having lead paint and that Levitas even took a class at Johns Hopkins on the dangers of lead paint for children.

“The deteriorated paint was documented in ’95, ’96, and ’98…,” Szokoly said in his closing argument. “You heard it from every witness in this case. In fact, I haven’t heard anyone say anything to the contrary.”

The jury deliberated for four hours over two days before returning with its verdict Feb. 5, according to Szokoly.

Judge Christopher L. Panos presided over the trial.

Parler did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

DAMON COLKLEY JR. V. STEWART LEVITAS, ET AL.

Court:

Baltimore City Circuit Court

Case No.:

24C12006992

Judge:

Christopher L. Panos

Outcome:

Verdict for $565,000 – $465,000 for Damon Colkley ($240,000 in noneconomic damages) and $100,000 for Delshawnda Cromer ($20,000 in noneconomic damages)

Dates:

Incident: 1992 through 1999

Suit filed: Nov. 30, 2012

Verdict: Feb. 5, 2015

Plaintiffs’ Attorneys:

Nicholas A. Szokoly, Cara L. O’Brien and Jessica L. Phillips of the Law Offices of Evan K. Thalenberg P.A. in Baltimore

Defendants’ Attorneys:

William C. Parler Jr., Michael J. Buhite and Kimberly A. Loew of Parler & Wobber LLP in Towson.

Counts:

Negligence, violation of the consumer protection act, negligent misrepresentation