The victim, who wasn’t named because he’s a juvenile, was exposed to lead paint while living with his grandmother and mother at a home in the 1600 block of East 25th Street in northeast Baltimore from the time of his birth in 1997 until 2001, court testimony revealed.
The $2,088,550 verdict in the case against Elliott Dackman, of The Dackman Company, was rendered Friday, finding him negligent in failing to maintain the home in accordance with Maryland law. Officials said Dackman was the principal person behind the company that owned the building, as well as another company, Jacob Dackman & Sons LLC, which managed it.
“All the landlord had to do was paint the house, and they didn’t,” said the plaintiff’s attorney, Bruce Powell, of the Law Offices of Peter T. Nicholl.
During the trial, experts testified that the boy suffered permanent brain damage that resulted in a loss of four to five IQ points, as well as several cognitive deficits, attention and focus problems, learning disabilities and behavioral problems.
“He’s been struggling in school up to this point, serious problems. He’s in high school. Last year, his GPA was below 1.0. (He’s) taking bridge classes and doing Saturday mornings to try and stay on track to graduate. It looks very iffy at this point,” Powell said.
Officials said in December 1997, the boy was tested and found to have a lead level of 12 micrograms per deciliter. That rose one point higher five months later, and eventually rose to 14 mcg/dl — more than double the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s reference level that’s used to identify kids with lead paint exposure.
The boy’s mom and grandmother testified in court that there was flaking and chipping paint at the home the entire time they lived there. A test of the property by Arc Environmental in 2013 showed that there were nine surfaces that had been painted with lead-based paint.
Records, photos and testimony also showed that the home had gone through extensive renovations since the time the boy and his family moved out. Powell said the boy’s grandmother reached out to the landlord and got the runaround from a woman in the office.
“She said she spoke with a woman named Francis. When she explained this, her response was, ‘Too bad you didn’t tell us about this before you moved in,’ and they never painted, and the landlord’s own records back that up,” Powell said.
Officials said the verdict awarded the boy $1,270,000 in economic damages and $818,330 in non-economic damages.
“Studies have consistently shown that exposure to lead paint, especially in children under the age of 6, can result in a lifetime of medical expenses and financial instability,” Powell said. “Although no monetary settlement can replace what has been taken from this child, we do feel vindicated when the responsible landlords are brought to justice in court.”
Ruth Ann Norton, with the Green and Healthy Homes Initiative, said this case shows the courts are paying attention to lower levels of lead in children, and the courts are also holding the property owners responsible.
“We are seeing these cases less and less because there’s greater compliance and great success in what we’ve done,” Norton said. “I think it clearly shows that if you are having property owners who are not following lead-safe work practices, not responding to complaints, the courts recognize there is long-term serious damage done to children by putting them at risk.”
WBAL-TV 11 News tried to reach someone from Jacob Dackman & Sons for comment. A person who answered the phone said he was not familiar with the case.