Court Allows Plaintiff to Rely Solely on Circumstantial Evidence in Lead-Based Paint Lawsuit

Earlier this month, a Maryland Court of Appeals issued an opinion in a case brought by a woman who claimed that she was exposed to lead in dangerous amounts as a child when she lived in a property owned by the defendant. In the case, Rowhomes, Inc. v. Smith, the court ultimately determined that, although there was no physical or direct evidence that the defendant’s property contained lead, the evidence was sufficient to survive a summary judgment motion.

Summary Judgment Motions in Personal Injury Cases

Before a case is submitted to a jury, either party can ask the court to rule on the evidence presented, in hopes of obtaining a summary judgment. If a court determines that the evidence, when viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, still requires a verdict in favor of the moving party, summary judgment is appropriate. If summary judgment is granted, the case is over, essentially before it even began. A summary judgment motion is a common way for a defendant to “test the waters” in personal injury cases, getting a feel for how the judge will view the evidence before proceeding to trial.

Rowhomes, Inc. v. Smith: The Facts of the Case

In Rowhomes, the issue for the court to decide was whether the plaintiff could survive a summary judgment motion without any direct evidence that the defendant’s property contained lead-based paint at the time when the plaintiff lived there. This was an issue because the home had been demolished since the plaintiff moved out, and it was never tested for lead-based paint prior to its demolition.

The plaintiff and the defendant each had experts testify as to whether the home contained lead, and whether such exposure could cause the plaintiff’s symptoms. The plaintiff’s experts told the court that it was “more likely than not” that the home did contain lead and that such lead was the cause of the plaintiff’s symptoms. The defense experts were much less certain, based on the fact that there was no real proof of any presence of lead-based paint.

Ultimately, after reviewing the facts as well as the relevant case law, the court allowed the plaintiff’s case to proceed based on the “reasonably probable source” doctrine. The doctrine allows for lead-based paint cases to proceed to a jury when the plaintiff provides evidence that the jury could find that the defendant’s property contained lead-based paint, and that the paint was the “reasonably probable source” of the plaintiff’s symptoms. Given the expert’s testimony, the court felt that a genuine issue of fact was raised, and that the case should survive the defendant’s motion for summary judgment.

Have You Been the Victim of Lead-Based Paint or Other Lead Poisoning?

Prior to 1977, many homes used lead-based paint. In fact, it was the standard until it was determined that such paint was unsafe. If you or a loved one has exhibited the symptoms of lead poisoning due to what you believe was lead-based paint in a prior Virginia residence, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. However, as you can see, these cases can be extremely complex both legally and scientifically, and they should be handled by dedicated Virginia personal injury and wrongful death attorneys. Call 703-491-7070 to speak with an attorney about your case.

See More Blog Posts:

Federal Court Seeks Clarification of State Law in Premises Liability Lawsuit, Virginia Injury Lawyers Blog, April 4, 2016.

West Virginia Court Finds in Favor of Plaintiff in Road Rage Accident Case, Virginia Injury Lawyers Blog, March 25, 2016.

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