Injury Liability for Lead Paint Exposure & Lead Poisoning

An overview of the dangers of lead exposure, and the legal remedies available in common situations.

Up until the middle of last century, lead was used in a variety of industrial and construction materials, most notably household paint. Poisoning from lead, either in dust or small chips, continues to pose a risk in work places and homes, particularly for small children in the home setting.

This article discusses the health risks posed by lead poisoning, the legal responsibilities of landlords, sellers of homes, and employers when it comes to exposure to lead paint, and the legal options an injured person has to recover compensation.

Sources of Lead Poisoning

Lead is used for a variety of purposes because of its versatility. It can be found in contaminated soil, water, air, food and all manner of products. Aside from exposure at the workplace and in the environment in general, a common source of lead poisoning are construction matter and other materials in older homes, particularly lead paint and lead plumbing. While construction projects can disturb household lead and expose occupants to health risks, even small chips of lead paint or contaminated water can be a threat to a young child.

Testing kits are available to determine if lead is present in a home and, if someone appears to have any of the symptoms discussed below, a medical provider can conduct tests to determine if an individual has been contaminated.

Aside from removing the source of the lead, a medical treatment called chelation therapy can be used to remove lead from a patient’s system. Chelation therapy does not undo health issues already caused by lead exposure, but it can lessen or halt any additional damage.

Health Risks of Lead

Symptoms of lead poisoning vary greatly. In general, exposure to high levels of lead affects the nervous and reproductive systems, as well the kidneys, heart, bones and intestines.

There are a huge number of factors that determine what sort of symptoms an individual will present due to lead poisoning. There are also many different levels of lead poisoning. These levels are determined by the frequency, duration, and severity of lead exposure. Age must also be taken into account, as children age six and under can suffer developmental and other health issues from ingestion of lead. Depending on these variables, any of the following can occur from lead exposure:

  • constipation
  • reduced IQ
  • slowed body growth
  • hearing problems
  • kidney damage
  • behavioral problems
  • anemia
  • low appetite
  • low energy
  • difficulty sleeping
  • headaches
  • irritability
  • aggressive behavior
  • pain and cramping in the abdomen, and
  • reduction in sensual responses

Responsibilities for Lead in an Apartment or Home

Landlords have a legal requirement to notify tenants if a rental unit might contain lead. Individuals selling a home have the same legal obligation to buyers of the home.

If a landlord or seller knew or should have known about the presence of lead but did not warn the tenant or buyer, they can be liable for all of the damages that result from exposure.

Additionally, several states have specific statutes that can make a property owner liable for lead poisoning, regardless of the owner’s knowledge of lead on the property.

Employers are subject to a variety of state and federal laws that require the workplace to be free of toxic lead exposure.

Recovering Damages for Lead Poisoning

The health effects of lead poisoning can be disastrous, even deadly. In a rental or residential setting, the typical landlord or home seller will not have enough money to cover the long-term medical and financial costs, let alone funds to cover  pain and suffering damages.

If the person injured by the lead (the plaintiff) has medical insurance, their insurance company will initially pay for the treatment. However, the more complicated question is whether the landlord or the seller of the home carried insurance that will pay for the plaintiff’s damages.

In some cases, it may be clear cut that the insurance covers liability for lead poisoning. In many other situations, it may be unclear whether lead poisoning liability is covered or not. An injured plaintiff may have to sue the landlord or seller (the defendant) and  then  sue the defendant’s insurance company to prove the defendant had coverage.

An injured plaintiff’s medical insurer will typically join the plaintiff in suing the defendant and the defendant’s insurer in order to recoup the expenses the medical insurer has paid out.

In the case of lead poisoning in the workplace, the  worker’s compensation system  will typically pay for the injured worker’s medical expenses and lost income. However, to recover for pain and suffering and emotional damages, the injured worker will need to sue the employer. The same issues discussed above may arise with the employer’s insurance, which will usually be some form of commercial general liability policy. Because of the complicated medical and insurance issues that can arise is a lead poisoning case, an injured plaintiff is well advised to seek a capable attorney experienced in the field before trying to sue for damages.

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