While the occurrence of lead poisoning in children has decreased over the years, there are still nearly 25% of all children live in homes or apartments that have deteriorated lead-based paint, which puts them at serious risk of lead exposure. One of the major consequences of lead exposure in children is cognitive impairment. If you have a child who has been exposed to lead and you believe your landlord may be responsible, our Joplin personal injury attorney can help you determine whether you have a claim.

Landlord-tenant laws

Landlord-tenant law is usually pretty uniform in that the landlord is responsible for everything outside the apartment unit itself. This would include areas such as entrances, stairways, and hallways. Landlords are also responsible for immovable objects, such as floors, walls, fixtures and any appliances that were already in the apartment. Consequently, the tenant is responsible for his or her own things, which are the movable things inside the apartment. There may be an exception, however, if the tenant knew about a dangerous condition inside the apartment, relating to something immovable, but says nothing, the tenant may be liable along with the landlord. Lead exposure cases can make these principles more complicated to navigate, however. Let our Joplin personal injury attorney help you with your potential claim.

Recent court cases addressing claims of lead exposure

As any physician can tell you, lead exposure can have long-term effects that can be a challenge to cope with. This is particularly true for children who have heightened levels of lead detected in their systems. A very recent lead-based paint case out of Maryland addressed the issue of causation when a child was born with cognitive impairments. That case required the court to determine the liability of the property owner for the lead exposure and its alleged consequences.
In this case, the plaintiff child was diagnosed with elevated levels of lead in his blood. However, he was born with a medical condition that is also known to cause cognitive impairments. This made it difficult to determine whether his impaired cognition was caused by the lead exposure or was the result of his pre-existing medical condition.

Causation or exacerbation of existing condition?

One of the arguments that the plaintiff made was that, although he had a pre-existing cognitive impairment, the added exposure to lead while living at the defendant’s property aggravated his impairment.  As a result, plaintiff argued that the lead exposure diminished his cognitive functioning and his quality of life. In support of this claim, the plaintiff provided evidence from a medical causation expert. It was the expert’s opinion that the lead exposure indeed aggravated the plaintiff’s existing conditions.

Plaintiff appeals the dismissal of his case

Initially, the lawsuit was dismissed based on a lack of evidence of causation. The plaintiff appealed the court’s decision. The appellate court considered whether the plaintiff submitted sufficient evidence to allow a jury to decide whether his claimed losses were caused by his pre-existing condition or by lead exposure.  Ultimately, the appellate court decided that the plaintiff’s expert testimony was enough to create a question of fact about causation that a jury should have decided, not the trial court. In other words, it was not appropriate for the trial court to dismiss the case without allowing a jury to determine which argument had been proven. For that reason, the appellate court decided that the case should be sent back to the trial court so that a jury could make that determination.

Residential versus commercial property

Liability for injuries that occur at an office, store or other business will depend, in part, on what the lease or any other business agreement says about liability issues. In many cases, the business will have liability insurance coverage that may apply to your claims. This is why it is important to immediately report any injuries you sustain to the business management, so their insurance carrier can be notified.
Injuries occurring at a residence are much simpler to deal with. The most important factor in determining liability is the type of residence. In other words, if the residence is a rented apartment, then you must consider the liability of not only the occupants of the residence, but also the landlord. It is typically the landlord who is responsible for maintaining most areas of a rented apartment. If you still have questions about liabilty, our Joplin personal injury attorney can answer them for you.
If you have questions regarding lead exposure or any other personal injury matters in Arkansas or Missouri, please contact the Cottrell Law Office for a free consultation. You can contact our Joplin personal injury attorney either online or by calling us toll-free at 800-364-8305.

Author Photo

Wesley Cottrell

Wes Cottrell earned his B.A. from Pittsburg State University in 1981 and his J.D. from the Washburn University School of Law in Topeka, Kansas in 1985. He was admitted to practice law in Kansas in 1986, in Missouri in 1987, in Arkansas in 1989, and Oklahoma in 1993. He is licensed to practice law in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas, eastern Arkansas, western Arkansas, and western Missouri. He was Deputy Prosecuting Attorney in Crawford County, Kansas from 1987-1989.

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