Sisters awarded $5 million in lead-paint suit

A Baltimore jury awarded $5 million Friday to a pair of sisters who claimed they suffered permanent brain damage from ingesting flaking lead paint in a rented West Baltimore home two decades ago.

The judgment against Stewart Levitas, a former president of a greater Baltimore landlords group, concluded a five-day Circuit Court trial of a lawsuit brought by Tajah and Tynae Jeffers, with Judge Alfred Nance presiding.

The sisters, now 22 and 18 years old, contended in their suit that they were poisoned by ingesting dust or flakes of deteriorating lead-based paint in a house in the 2100 block of Hollins St., which was owned at the time by Levitas. The elder sister was 2 years old in 1994 when their mother moved in, and the younger was not yet born, according to Nicholas Szokoly, one of their lawyers.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers presented evidence during the trial that the home had lead-based paint and that it was peeling or flaking in places while the family lived there until 1998.

Levels of lead measured in the girls’ blood peaked at twice in one and more than twice in the other of the level then considered harmful by medical experts, Szokoly said. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has since determined there is no safe level of lead exposure, with research finding even minute doses can have lasting effects on learning and behavior.

Maryland lawmakers passed legislation in 1994 that has been credited with reducing lead poisoning in rented homes built before 1950, when lead paint was widely used. But that law did not take effect immediately. The home in which the girls lived was not registered with the Maryland Department of the Environment until 1996, Szokoly said, and risk-reduction measures required of landlords were phased in and did not occur while the family lived there.

Thomas W. Hale, Levitas’ lawyer, could not be reached for comment.

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