Jury finds landlord liable for tenant's lead poisoning

CLEVELAND (AP) - A jury ordered a property manager to pay $100,000 in damages to a former tenant who suffered lead poisoning when he lived in the unit as a child.
Jurors found Ron Barnett responsible for Antoine Crawford Jr.'s childhood lead poisoning on Thursday.
"Maybe this is the first step in everyone getting the lead paint out of their houses," said Lanisha Walker, Antoine's mother, who sued on her son's behalf. The boy lived in the apartment until he was 7 and now suffers from attention-deficit hyperactive disorder and has a below-average IQ.
The verdict will make it much more difficult for landlords to argue they were unaware of potential lead paint dangers in future cases, said Michael Gruenloh, a lawyer who represented Antoine, now 9.
Barnett said he moved to remediate the apartment's lead problem within days of learning about it.
The plaintiffs argued he should have expected the unit to be contaminated because it was built during a time where lead paint was common. Barnett should have tested for and addressed lead hazards before Antoine was ever exposed, the family's lawyers said.
This was the first time in more than five years that a jury in Cuyahoga County found a landlord responsible for lead exposure, attorneys said.
Lawsuits against paint companies have been unsuccessful, and other recent cases against landlords were decided by judges or were settled out of court.
Gruenloh and his colleague, Frederick Jekel, work for a South Carolina law firm that has more than 1,000 lead paint cases pending nationwide, including nearly 30 in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court. Nearly all of them involve lawsuits against landlords or property managers, Jekel said.
Lead paint was banned nationally in 1978, after studies showed it caused health defects in children, including learning disabilities, neurological damage and death.
Both Walker and Barnett's lawyers plan to appeal.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)