ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Legal Newsline) – Judges in the Maryland Court of Appeals on July 31 affirmed a lower court’s decision, with one dissent, in a lawsuit concerning damages for loss of income allegedly caused by exposure to paint that contained lead.
A key question in this lawsuit was whether the evidence offered by experts was sufficient to demonstrate a loss of earning capacity, as stated by Judge Sally D. Adkins.
“We shall also assess whether an expert may offer an opinion on specific causation when relying on epidemiological data coupled with an individualized analysis of the plaintiff and his claimed injuries,” the ruling states.
According to the ruling, Chauncey Liles Jr. sued Ivy Realty Inc. and Stanley Sugarman in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, alleging that he had sustained injury and damages caused by lead paint exposure at a residential property owned by Sugarman where he had lived for many years beginning in childhood.
In his complaint, Liles alleged that due to Sugarman’s negligence, he experienced health problems including decreased ability to concentrate and achieve success in school and at work because of exposure to deteriorating lead paint. He said that this was confirmed by his elevated blood lead levels (BLLs).
The jury was charged with deciding whether the lead exposure caused Liles any injury, and if so, what damages he incurred. In this appeal, Sugarman, the defendant is appealing the trial court’s decision in favor of Liles as well as allowing the jury to decide on the amount of damages.
“Sugarman alleges that Liles’ damages claim should not have been submitted to the jury because (vocational rehabilitation expert Mark) Lieberman's opinion was 'baseless.' We disagree ... Lieberman’s opinion was based on substantial material," the opinion states.
The judge explained that Lieberman had interviewed Liles, conducted additional vocational testing, and reviewed his educational and medical records. He also reviewed and relied upon the neuropsychological evaluation and conclusions of Dr. Robert Kraft.
“Lieberman relied on his years of experience as a vocational rehabilitation counselor during which he has helped thousands of students attend college,” the ruling states. “After reviewing this data, he concluded that Liles was not likely to receive a college degree due to the attention problems Dr. Kraft identified.”
The ruling cited that another testimony was that offered by Dr. Michael Conte, an economics expert, who testified regarding the financial earnings of an individual with a college degree versus those of an individual without one.
In conclusion, Adkins said that her review of the epidemiological literature, coupled with an analysis of Liles specifically, supported the conclusion that Liles’s elevated BLLs caused his IQ loss.
“Liles sufficiently demonstrated, beyond mere speculation, the existence of damages as a result of the injury caused by Sugarman’s negligence,” the ruling states. “Accordingly, the trial court did not err in submitting the case to the jury on the issues of causation and damages.”
She said that the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals is affirmed.
Judge Joseph M. Getty offered a confirming and a dissenting opinion in the ruling. He agreed with the testimony of Dr. Jacalyn Blackwell-White that Liles’ elevated BLLs caused a loss of IQ points, and that Liles provided sufficient evidence of lost earning capacity damages to submit to the jury.
“I concur with two of the majority’s conclusions,” he wrote. "...However, I respectfully dissent from the court’s holding that Dr. Blackwell-White had a sufficient factual basis to offer an expert opinion as to the general causation (i.e., that lead exposure can cause impairments to auditory encoding and information processing speed).”