Law Offices of Evan K. Thalenberg PA wins Baltimore Jury Verdict of $5.1 million

The Daily Record - December 4, 2014

Turning points: The cup by the sink

Plaintiffs’ lawyers discuss keys to their recent $5M lead-paint verdict for two West Baltimore sisters

Like many clients of The Law Offices of Evan K. Thalenberg, Tynae Jeffers was found to have elevated levels of lead in her blood when she was a child. Unlike many of the Baltimore law firm’s clients, however, one of those tests happened in 1996, while Tynae was in utero.
So the lawyers decided to show a Baltimore jury two pictures from the 2100 block of Hollins Street, where Tynae and her older sister, Tajah, allegedly suffered from lead-paint poisoning.

In one photo, there is a kitchen window-well that “clearly had paint chips in it,” said Cara L. O’Brien, a lawyer for the women. The other photo shows, next to the sink, a large plastic cup. The cup, according to testimony from Tynae’s father, was the same one her mother drank water and chewed ice from while pregnant with Tynae.

“It was really that moment at trial when everything was brought together,” O’Brien said.

As reported in The Daily Record, a jury of six women awarded Tajah and Tynae more than $5 million following less than two hours of deliberation Nov. 21. The award includes almost $2 million in noneconomic damages, which will be capped at $880,000 under Maryland law, according to the plaintiffs’ lawyers.

The women lived in the house between 1994 and 1998 — between ages 2 and 6 for Tajah, and from birth to age 2 for Tynae. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control, in the late 1990s, considered a blood-lead level above 10 to be a cause for concern. Tajah’s level peaked at 20, while Tynae’s level reached 22, according to Thalenberg. (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.)

Tynae’s blood-lead level tested at 4 when she was six months old, which O’Brien called pretty rare.

“That’s because when you think about a six-month-old baby, they’re not doing much,” she said. “It’s really uncommon.”

“It’s not a question of eating lead-paint chips,” added Thalenberg. “Lead dust permeates the house.”

Thomas W. Hale, a principal with the Leder Law Group LLC in Towson and a lawyer for Stewart Levitas and State Real Estate Inc., did not respond to a request for comment.

According to the plaintiffs’ legal team, a defense expert said the plaintiffs’ experts’ tests on the house for lead paint were invalid; however, the defense expert had previously tested the house before the plaintiffs moved in and found lead paint.

“That was a big turning point in the trial, when the jury was really with us and realized there was no doubt this house had lead,” said Jessica L. Phillips, another plaintiffs’ lawyer.

Levitas also testified he had gone to a seminar about lead-paint poisoning prior to purchasing the house and knew the house had lead in it, according to Nicholas A. Szokoly, a plaintiffs’ lawyer.

“The defendant’s testimony probably put the nail in their own coffin,” Szokoly said.

Happier now

Szokoly also explained to jurors how the lead-paint poisoning affected his clients. Tynae recently graduated from high school with a lot of help from her parents because she was performing at a sixth-grade level. Tajah, who always loved cooking, graduated from high school and moved to Miami to attend Johnson & Wales University to major in culinary arts. She spent six semesters there and was academically suspended for four of the semesters.

“It’s not because she couldn’t pass” the cooking classes, O’Brien said. “She couldn’t pass remedial English, remedial math.”

Tajah left the school and is now working in a warehouse in Baltimore, according to O’Brien.

Judge Alfred Nance presided over the weeklong trial. When the verdict finally was read, the women remained solemn and stone-faced at the request of their lawyers — but they celebrated when they returned to the law office.

“They were elated when they got back,” Szokoly said.

TAJAH JEFFERS, ET AL., V. STEWART LEVITAS, ET AL.

Court:

Baltimore City Circuit Court

Case No.:

24C12005059

Judge:

Alfred Nance

Outcome:

Plaintiffs’ verdict for $5,082,035.33 – $3,198,753.33 in economic damages and $1,883,282.17 in noneconomic damages (capped at $880,000 under state law)

Dates:

Event: 1994 to 1998

Suit filed: Aug. 23, 2012

Verdict: Sept. 19, 2013

Plaintiffs’ Attorneys:

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

Defendants’ Attorneys:

Thomas W. Hale and Michael W. Fox of the Leder Law Group LLC in Towson

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