Baltimore jury awards $2.2 million lead paint verdict

The Daily Record - February 25, 2019

A Baltimore jury awarded $2.2 million to a man who has permanent brain damage from having been exposed to lead paint as a child.

After deliberating for two days and one hour on the third day, a jury of two men and four women on Friday awarded $1,100,000 in economic damages to Savon Johnson, 24. The jury also awarded Johnson $1,100,000 in non-economic damages, which will be reduced to $515,000 under the state’s mandatory cap on non-economic damages. The trial took seven days.

“He was very happy,” attorney Robert J. Leonard said Monday of his client. “It was a long wait. After the third day of jury deliberations, we were definitely ready.”

Leonard said it was the longest deliberation he ever sat through.

“I just appreciated that the jury hung in there with us and (paid) attention to such a complex trial and all the witnesses,” Leonard said. “It’s just an honor to have a great jury like that.”

Johnson lived with his mother and older brother at 903 N. Duncan St. in Baltimore from January to August 1996, in a home owned and operated by City Homes, Inc. and City Homes III, LP. Leonard said that tests done when Johnson was a child showed he had an elevated blood lead level before he moved to the Duncan Street property. Then, right before Johnson moved out of the house, Leonard said, his blood lead level was 15 micrograms per deciliter, a level the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, or CDC, considered a concern for lead poisoning as of 1991.

In the late 1990s, the CDC considered a blood lead level above 10 to be cause for concern. Since 2012, the CDC has said that there is no safe level for lead exposure in children and that a blood lead level of 5 indicates a child requires case management.

Johnson’s mother testified that there was flaking and chipping paint in the Duncan Street home while they lived there, said Leonard, of The Law Offices of Evan Thalenberg, P.A. in Baltimore.

Shortly after leaving the Duncan Street house, Johnson’s blood lead level dropped to 7 micrograms per deciliter, Leonard said.

Johnson alleged that City Homes failed to exercise reasonable care in properly maintaining the homes, including the walls, woodwork, doors, doorframes, windows and windowsills, among other areas, and for failing to eradicate dangers caused by flaking, peeling and cracking lead paint, the lawsuit states.

The house was eventually sold to the City of Baltimore before it was torn down.

Leonard said a picture of chipped paint in the house helped persuade the jury.

“A lot of these cases we have, they are allegations from 20 years ago and not a lot of clients have pictures from that long ago,” Leonard said. “This one, we just had it front and center. Defense couldn’t dispute what we had right in front of the jury.”

Johnson’s lead poisoning lawsuit was filed in 2013 but was stayed on June 20, 2014, pending a bankruptcy proceeding filed by City Homes. The stay was lifted on May 11, 2017, after the bankruptcy court ruled that City Homes’ insurance coverage allowed for plaintiffs to recover damages. Several cases against City Homes are scheduled to move forward, with trial dates set for 2019. Johnson’s was the first case to be tried since the stay was lifted, Leonard said.

“We’re slammed for trial dates with City Homes,” Leonard said.

David A. Carter, an attorney representing the defense, did not immediately return a request for comment on Monday.

Savon Johnson v. City Homes et al.        

Court: Baltimore City Circuit

Case No.: 24-C-13-001215

Judge: Philip Jackson

Proceeding: Jury trial

Outcome: Verdict for plaintiff, $1,100,000 non-economic (capped at $515,000), $1,100,000 economic damages

Dates:

Incident: 1995 to 1997

Suit filed: March 1, 2013

Verdict: Feb. 22, 2019

Plaintiffs’ Attorneys: Robert (“Robbie”) J. Leonard and Matthew Thompson of The Law Offices of Evan Thalenberg, P.A. in Baltimore

Defendants’ Attorneys: David A. Carter and Letam Duson of The Carter Law Offices, LLC in Baltimore

Counts: Negligence, negligent misrepresentation, violation of the Consumer Protection Act

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