New York Court Significantly Narrows Lead Paint Potential Liability for Landlord
In a recent Kings County Supreme Court case, the allegations of lead paint poisoning date back to 2010. From 2010-2012, the plaintiffs resided at an apartment owned and managed by several non-parties to the case. The apartment had already been subject to several lead paint violations before the plaintiffs moved in, and the previous owner and manager and the City of New York had already engaged in remediation efforts. The plaintiffs alleged they tested positive for elevated blood levels of lead at various points between 2010 and 2013.
After the prior owner filed for bankruptcy, Landlord purchased the property out of bankruptcy “as is” in November 2011. The plaintiffs moved out of the apartment in February 2012. Landlord thus owned the property for only three months before the plaintiffs and their family moved out.
The plaintiffs sued the Landlord, the current property manager, the earlier abatement contractor, and the City of New York, which hired the abatement contractor, in April 2013. The plaintiffs sought to hold Landlord accountable for lead poisoning and associated damages that occurred during their entire stay at the subject property. This firm represented the Landlord and the property manager.
Our clients filed for summary judgment to absolve them of liability for any lead poisoning that may have occurred on the subject property on the grounds of lack of causation and lack of notice with reasonable opportunity to cure any lead paint condition. As soon as our clients actually learned of the lead paint condition, they prepared an abatement plan that had to be approved by New York City and it was approved. As soon as possible, the plaintiffs were moved out of the contaminated apartment into a safe apartment and thereafter, the original apartment was remediated.
On causation, we argued that the plaintiffs could not provide a quantitative level of exposure that would have caused their injuries during the short three-month period between when our clients took control of the property and when they learned of the dangers and moved the plaintiffs to a safe space. For all these reasons, we argued that any liability should reside with the previous landlord (who was bankrupt) or possibly the City of New York for failing to take appropriate action.
The court agreed in large part with our analysis. The court agreed that it would be unreasonable to hold our clients liable for any time outside of the short three-month period from when they took control of the property, with no notice of the lead poisoning, and when the plaintiffs moved out and away from exposure. The court limited the period even further to January 24, 2012, when the plaintiffs were given the opportunity to move but chose to stay. Per the court, our clients “have no liability for the period of time before November 3, 2011, or after January 24, 2012.”
Ultimately, then, the only issues that remain triable are: (1) whether our clients acted within a reasonable time frame in responding to the situation, when they found out about the lead paint in December, acted immediately to renovate a nearby apartment for the plaintiffs to move into, and; (2) whether the plaintiffs can demonstrate that they were exposed to lead in sufficient quantities for the two months between November 2011 and January 2012 to suffer their claimed injuries. A one-month response time from discovering possible lead paint to moving the occupants and remediating the situation is as reasonable as one could possibly expect and indeed the time frame was approved by the applicable authority, the City of New York.
As to the issue of causation, the court found our toxicologist persuasive. Our expert argued the plaintiffs had not demonstrated specific or general causation as to sufficient exposure during the relevant period. The court, however, found that that matter could not be decided as a matter of law. We are confident that our expert’s conclusions will bear out on this issue of fact, and any finder of fact will have no reason to hold our clients responsible for any injuries.
New York courts tend to deny summary judgment motions in lead paint cases outright, finding the inquiry too fact intensive. We were, instead, able to narrow possible liability to a scant two-month time frame, and we are confident our fact-based arguments will ultimately absolve our clients of any liability.
For thorough, effective legal guidance on a New York insurance defense, toxic tort, or products liability claim, contact the Islip offices of Richard A. Fogel at 516-721-7161.