Lead Paint Liability Immunity Deemed Invalid – Bad News for Landlords?

In its past term, the Maryland Court of Appeals in Jackson, et al. v. The Dackman Company, et al., No. 131, September Term 2008 (Md. Oct. 24, 2011), struck down as invalid a statutory provision in Maryland’s Reduction of Lead Risk in Housing Act (“Act”) that provided immunity from liability to landlords if: (1) they achieved full compliance with certain requirements under the Act including registration and timely renewal of rental properties constructed prior to 1950; compliance with applicable risk reduction and response standards; and compliance with notice requirements to tenants; and (2) they had opportunity to make a qualified offer of up to $17,000 for reasonable relocation and medical expenses.  The Court found that the language violated Article 19 of Maryland’s Declaration of Rights, which grants individuals a right of access to the courts and a right to a remedy for their injuries. 

In their decision, which was unanimous, the Court criticized the $17,000 figure in the statute as an inadequate and unreasonable remedy for children who have permanent brain damage as a result of their ingestion of lead paint.  The Court did find that the invalid immunity was severable from the remaining portions of the Act, and that those remaining portions may be given full effect.  Nevertheless, the decision is bad news for landlords as they may now be potentially exposed to huge liability claims even if they achieved full compliance with the Act’s provisions.    

For more information about lead paint liability contact James R. Benjamin, Jr., Esquire at jbenjamin@hpklegal.com. HPK will be hosting an onsite seminar on lead paint liability and what steps landlords may wish to take to protect their interests in the wake of the Jackson decision.  Details on the date and time of the seminar will be posted in the events section of HPK’s website.