Landlord Liability for Lead Paint Poisoning Avoided By Changes in Insurance, Real Estate Industry: NYT Report

Real estate and insurance company policies often leave parents with few resources to seek compensation for injuries to their children caused by lead paint poisoning, according to the report.

A new report outlines how landlords and the insurance industry have strategically avoided liability from lead paint poisoning lawsuits by excluding coverage on policies issued in recent decades, leaving children suffering life-long health and mental problems without a source to pursue compensation.

The New York Times released a story last week that highlights growing concerns over the virtual shield landlords and their insurance companies have erected to avoid liability for lead-poisoning, without taking any actions to reduce risks for families living in their properties or avoid toxic lead paint in rental units from poisoning children.

Childhood lead poisoning can affect a child’s ability to learn and develop, and health experts emphasize there is no safe blood level of lead exposure. Side effects of lead poisoning can result in nervous system injury, brain damage, seizures or convulsions, cognitive impairment, coma and even death for young children.

Although lead paint has been banned in the U.S., many homes nationwide still have the toxic paint, and as the properties age there is a continuing risk that the paint may chip or flake off of the walls, which poses a serious risk of lead poisoning for young children who ingest the paint chips.

Over the past few decades, families have pursued damages and lead poisoning settlements from landlords who knowingly failed to maintain their rental property to prevent old lead-paint from chipping off the walls.

Learn More About Lead Poisoning lawsuits

Children diagnosed with lead poisoning after exposure to peeling or chipping lead paint in a rental home may be entitled to financial compensation and benefits.

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The New York Times report tells the story of how a South Bend, Indiana mother, Selena Wiley, and her three children rented an older apartment from a landlord, who assured her there was no lead paint in the property, and that the home was safe. However, not even two years later, Wiley began to notice her two year old experiencing sudden appetite loss and speech impairments.

The report states Wiley’s child was seen by their doctor, where it was discovered the child suffered from extremely high levels of lead poisoning, requiring the immediate start of a several week treatment to rid his body of the toxins. Wiley told The New York Times that shortly after the incident a health inspector later found lead paint and dust all throughout Wiley’s rental home.

While Selena’s son is now at-risk for a lifetime of lead poisoning side effects, the report states the real estate firm that owns the home has legally distanced themselves from liability exposure through using Limited Liability Company (LLC) structuring, which only allows the business to be liable for debts or a judgement.

The practice of purchasing a rental home with an LLC by the business owner, or owners, has become common over the last couple decades, as a way of protecting the individual owners, and only allowing their initial investment in the business, or, the property, to be at risk of loss.

In addition to the protections on the business front that limit a recovery for her son’s potential lifetime of health consequences caused by lead exposure, The New York Times reports the property insurer had excluded lead from its coverage. The move by the insuring company’s allows them to decline paying out for any lead-related injury arising from the rental units.

While Wiley’s family has a lawsuit filed against the real estate company that owns the house, no outcome has been reached, the report states. While the family battles for justice against the real estate company, Wiley states her son J.J., now 5 years of age, suffers from lead poisoning effects including aggression, attention problems and developmental delays, according to the report.

Lead Poisoning Risks

Prior to being banned, lead was commonly added to paint to speed drying, increase durability, and improve overall quality. However, it has been confirmed that the toxic lead in the paint causes serious developmental and cognitive problems in children who eat or suck on paint chips or breathe in the dust that could result from peeling paint.

While much of the focus on lead poisoning in recent years has been on lead contaminated water supply lines, health experts claim breathing or ingesting dust from deteriorating lead-based paint is still the most common cause of lead poisoning among children.

Recently, the CDC has prioritized efforts to provide early detection measures and reduce preventable lead exposure cases, by significantly lowering the blood lead reference value level to 3.5 µg/dL from 5 µg/dL in U.S. children age’s one through five years old.

The action was announced in October 2021, with the CDC stating that the change in criteria is aimed at focusing resources on children with the highest BLLs, compared to most U.S. children ages 1-5, so more prompt actions can be taken to reduce their levels, mitigate health effects, and identify or eliminate sources of lead exposure.

A study released earlier this month by JAMA Pediatrics, included findings indicating early intervention services helped children exposed to lead improve their math scores by 7% and English scores by 10%, compared to children who did not receive intervention.

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