Although cases of lead poisoning, especially from lead paint, have decreased substantially since the 1970s, a recent uptick in cases has experts concerned. A New York Times (NYT) investigative article notes two issues contributing to this increase – what they and many others believe is a concerted effort in both the real estate and insurance industries to protect themselves from liability.
What is lead poisoning?
The CDC describes lead poisoning, also called lead toxicity:
Lead poisoning or lead toxicity refers to exposures to lead that result in illness and require immediate medical attention. It is used to describe cases when there are severe health effects related to high blood lead levels. If blood lead levels are 45 micrograms per deciliter (μg/dL) or greater, healthcare providers may recommend medication to help remove lead from the body. However, children are highly sensitive to lead and exposure at lower levels has been shown to cause harm. [emphasis ours]
For children, there is no safe blood level for lead, and the only way to check for lead poisoning is through a blood test.
How does a child contract lead poisoning?
As the NYT reports in their article about young paint victims, children often suffer lead poisoning as a result of lead paint. Per the NYT, “Although lead poisoning has decreased substantially since the late 1970s as a result of regulatory actions and public health initiatives, about 500,000 children under 6 have elevated blood lead levels in the United States and are at risk of harm.”
Lead poisoning typically occurs through lead paint in older homes, especially those poorly maintained. When landlords fail to remove or seal old lead paint, it can flake off and/or turn to dust, which when ingested by young children can wreak havoc on their developing brains and nervous systems.
David Jacobs, chief scientist at the National Center for Healthy Housing, told the NYT in 2021, “The main route of exposure for most children is lead-contaminated dust, from paint getting on their hands or their toys. And then normal child behavior at this age is, everything goes in the mouth.”
Further, the pandemic caused the majority of families to spend much more time at home. The result of this was twofold:
- Lead screenings for children significantly decreased
- Exposure to lead significantly increased
We cannot understate the devastating effects lead poisoning can have on young children.
What are the symptoms of lead poisoning?
Once a child begins displaying symptoms of lead poisoning, it typically means they already have dangerous levels of the toxin in their blood. The Mayo Clinic describes the symptoms of lead toxicity in children:
|· Developmental delay |
· Learning difficulties
· Loss of appetite
· Weight loss
· Sluggishness and fatigue
|· Abdominal pain |
· Hearing loss
· Eating things, such as paint chips, that aren’t food (pica)”
Additionally, babies can be exposed to lead in the womb, leading to premature birth, low birth weight, and slower growth.
The NYT discusses the case of J.J., a two-year-old who experienced such severe lead poisoning from his family home in Indiana in 2018 that he continues to suffer the side effects today. His mother notes how he turned from a chatty little boy into a quiet child with no appetite. An inspector later found significant levels of lead paint and dust in their rental home.
Who is responsible for lead paint poisoning?
Many rental homes and apartments across the country have fallen into disrepair, especially in low-income neighborhoods, with landlords and insurance companies passing the buck on responsibility. Per the NYT:
Not only is the illness a scourge in many of the country’s poorer ZIP codes, but families like J.J.’s have less recourse than ever. Over the years, children often received settlements or court judgments to help pay for health care, therapy and tutoring as they struggled with the life-altering effects of lead poisoning. The payments also served as a warning to landlords to make sure their properties were safe.
However, recently, insurance companies have quietly added insurance exclusions for lead paint, claiming landlords should be responsible for mitigating the risks. While these parties fight with each other, children continue getting sick. J.J.’s mother describes his ongoing difficulties:
It is hard to watch the 5-year-old struggle with things that came easily to her other children, she said. He cannot put on pants by himself and doesn’t know the names of his favorite snacks, identifying them instead by the color of their packaging: “orange” for Nacho Cheese-flavored Doritos, and “blue” for Cool Ranch.
Lead paint insurance exclusions have taken many families and even attorneys by surprise. Without this type of coverage, children and their families are left with almost zero recourse because the ownership of these buildings and residences are often hidden in a maze of limited liability companies. David Jacobs also points out that both insurers and landlords must take responsibility for this problem, saying, “We can’t afford to keep ignoring it — it costs too much and causes too much damage.”
A number of states are attempting to ban these types of exclusions, but both the insurance and real estate industry oppose this legislation. Insurers believe the issue should be addressed where it begins; fixing the lead paint problem. They also believe it will drive up the costs of premiums, as well as the housing market.
On the other hand, landlords do have a responsibility to their tenants to provide a safe and healthy living space. Rental property owners in California are bound by law to make certain disclosures and repairs regarding lead paint:
- Disclosure Rule: Title X Section 1018. This rule requires owners of rental homes and properties built before 1978 to provide results of any lead testing, a lead warning statement, and an informational pamphlet called “Protect Your Family From Lead in Your Home” to prospective tenants and buyers.
- Lead-Safe Housing Rule. This applies to any owner who participates in Section 8 housing or voucher programs.
Find out more about California lead regulations and legislation.
If your child has suffered lead poisoning and toxicity, the Los Angeles personal injury lawyers at McNicholas & McNicholas, LLP want to help. We understand the long-lasting effects of lead poisoning on young children and the challenges they may face for the rest of their lives. Nothing is more important than the health of your child, and your family deserves legal guidance and advocacy.
We will fight to ensure your child will receive the compensation they deserve so that they will be able to afford lifelong care. Call our office at 310-474-1582 or complete our contact form to schedule a free, remote consultation with one of our experienced Los Angeles lawyers today.
Please note that this blog is not to be construed as legal advice. Because every case is fact-specific, you should consult directly with an attorney to obtain legal advice specific to your situation.
With more than 25 years’ experience as a trial lawyer, Partner Patrick McNicholas exclusively represents victims in personal injury, product liability, sexual assault and other consumer-oriented matters, such as civil rights, aviation disasters and class actions. Learn more about his professional background here.