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Jury finds Kennedy Krieger liable for lead exposure for study participant’s sibling

A Baltimore jury found Kennedy Krieger Institute liable for the lead exposure of a child whose sibling was part of its lead paint study in the 1990s, marking the first time there has been a verdict against the institute for the program.

The Lead-Based Paint Abatement and Repair and Maintenance Study, or R&M study, exposed newborns and children to lead paint to determine the best abatement strategies. The Court of Appeals held in 2001 that plaintiffs could pursue negligence lawsuits.

Ashley Partlow, now 30, lived in one of the homes involved in the study in 1994 and though she was too old, her sibling was a study participant, according to attorney Brian Brown. A Baltimore judge ruled for Kennedy Krieger initially and the case went to the Court of Appeals, which reversed last year and found that a duty was owed to participants’ siblings.

The trial began with opening arguments Oct. 21 and concluded Tuesday, when jurors began deliberating. They returned the verdict of $1.841 million Wednesday afternoon. The award includes $171,000 in economic damages and $1.67 million in noneconomic damages, which is expected to be reduced to $350,000 under the state’s mandatory cap.

“This was the only case that has ever been tried with regard to a sibling, non-study participant, as opposed to a person in the study,” said Brown, of Brown & Barron LLC in Baltimore. “You can’t just create this study and not pay any attention to other children who may be in the house who may be poisoned by lead and lead dust and ignore them because of their age.”

Barry Goldstein, an attorney for Kennedy Krieger and a partner at Waranch & Brown LLC in Lutherville, said he believes that there are appealable issues in the case and that the defense will preserve the right to appeal the verdict. Michael A. Brown, partner at Nelson Mullins LLP in Baltimore and also counsel for Kennedy Krieger, said they will be discussing post-trial options with their client.

The study involved more than 100 homes divided into five groups. Two groups were control groups – one with homes built after 1978, when lead was banned from paint, the other with homes that had previously undergone “comprehensive lead abatement,” according to Kennedy Krieger.

Each of the three test groups had various levels of “interventions,” or lead-paint abatements, assigned by Kennedy Krieger; the participants’ blood-lead levels were examined over time.

The study’s proponents say it led to a law requiring property owners to conduct lead remediation and resulted in a substantial reduction in lead poisoning. Critics say it left children needlessly exposed to lead for the study’s sake.

In the Court of Appeals opinion reviving Partlow’s case, the four-judge majority determined the institute’s “duty of care” extended to children who were not participants in the study but whose presence was known to Kennedy Krieger at the property “subject to the research study” and who were allegedly injured by their exposure to lead that the institute knew or should have known existed on the property.

Brown said Kennedy Krieger’s defense at trial was that the study was good and well-designed, with approval by state and federal agencies, and, alternatively, that Partlow was not harmed.

Partlow had elevated lead levels when she moved into the study house, Brown said, but her levels increased when she lived there. Goldstein said the evidence showed Partlow’s lead levels decreased while she was in the home but acknowledged it was a point of contention at trial.

Ashley Partlow v. Kennedy Krieger Institute Inc.

Court: Baltimore City Circuit

Case No.: 24C09008243

Judge: Lawrence P. Fletcher-Hill

Proceeding: Jury trial

Outcome: $1.841 million verdict for plaintiff, including $171,000 in economic damages and $1.67 million in noneconomic damages, expected to be reduced to $350,000 under the state’s mandatory cap

Dates:

Incident: May 1994

Suit filed: Dec. 9, 2009

Verdict: Nov. 13, 2019

Plaintiff’s Attorneys: Brian S. Brown and Kristin Hosseinzadeh of Brown & Barron LLC in Baltimore

Defendants’ Attorneys: Michael A. Brown and Michael E. Blumenfeld of Nelson Mullins LLP in Baltimore; Barry Goldstein, John T. Sly and Saamia Dasti of Waranch & Brown LLC in Lutherville

Counts: Negligence


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