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Brian S. Brown, Attorney at law. Saul E. Kerpelman & Assocaites, P.A. (file)

Baltimore jury awards $9.3M in lead-paint verdict

A Baltimore City Circuit Court jury awarded $9.3 million on Wednesday to a man who claimed he was poisoned by lead-based paint at his former northwest Baltimore rowhouse.

Terrance Smith Jr.’s award includes $7.9 million in noneconomic damages, which will be capped at $350,000 based on the state’s cap for such damages, according to one of his lawyers.

Smith, now 22, lived in a house in the 3600 block of West Belvedere Avenue from birth until he was 6 years old. His blood-lead level was 10 in three tests between June 1993 and September 1994 and 9 in April 1995, according to Brian S. Brown.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control, in the late 1990s, considered a blood-lead level above 10 to be cause for concern. As of July 2012, the CDC changed the level for children, saying 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.

Brown, a veteran lead-paint litigator with Saul E. Kerpelman & Associates P.A. in Baltimore, said Smith’s case featured the lowest measured blood-lead level he has ever brought to trial. Smith and his father decided to go forward after the final settlement offer from defendant Sugarcorn Realty Co. was deemed too low, he said.

Brown described the case as “pretty much circumstantial,” noting he did not even have a lead test of home’s interior to introduce as evidence. But the home was built before the 1950s and Smith was living there exclusively when he was tested, he said.

“This really fit in nicely within a boundary of law the Court of Appeals has been telling us lately,” said Brown, referring to recent decisions by the state’s top court making it more challenging for plaintiffs in lead-paint litigation to introduce circumstantial evidence.

Jurors also were impressed with Smith’s own testimony during the two-and-a-half week trial, according to Brown. Smith only reached the eighth grade and has been unable to work steadily because of his condition, Brown said.

“He’s really trying hard,” Brown said. “He’s a really good kid.”

The defense’s medical expert also had previously testified on behalf of plaintiffs in lead-paint cases and was “discredited” by jurors after cross-examination, according to Brown, who tried the case with Matthew C. Koning.

The jury of five men and one women deliberated for a little more than two hours Wednesday before returning with the verdict. Brown was about to begin his rebuttal of the defense’s closing arguments Monday when the courtroom was emptied due to the riots in Baltimore. Several jurors called and emailed Judge Pamela J. White to find out if the circuit court would be open Wednesday, he said.

“This jury was unbelievable,” Brown said.

Smith was “literally overwhelmed” after the verdict was announced, Brown said.

“He really didn’t know how to react,” Brown said, adding Smith “had to leave” the courtroom.

Michele R. Kendus, a lawyer for Sugarcorn, did not respond to a request for comment. Kendus is a partner with Goodell, DeVries, Leech & Dann LLP in Baltimore.

Terrance Smith Jr. v. Sugarcorn Realty Co., et al.

Court: Baltimore City Circuit Court

Case No.: 24C13002918

Judge: Pamela J. White

Outcome: Verdict for plaintiff for $9.3 million, including $7.9 million in noneconomic damages capped at $350,000

Dates: Event: May 1992 through 1998

Suit filed: May 14, 2013

Jury verdict: April 29, 2015

Plaintiff’s Attorneys: Brian S. Brown and Matthew C. Koning of Saul E. Kerpelman & Associates P.A. in Baltimore

Defendants’ Attorneys: Michele R. Kendus and Richard L. Nilsson of Goodell, DeVries, Leech & Dann LLP in Baltimore

Count: Negligence