A Brooklyn Jury awarded our client, a 19 year old man, $11,000,000.00 for
injuries sustained as a result of lead poisoning he sustained when he
was an infant. Rheingold, Valet, Rheingold, Ruffo & Giuffra LLP, Partner
Thomas Giuffra, was trial counsel for the family and obtained the verdict
after a lengthy trial.
Our client, Lameek, was just seven months old when he was initially was
diagnosed with lead poisoning. At that time a non-party was the owner
of the building. In June, 1995, the property was foreclosed, and OCI became
the owner. OCI was located in Austin, Texas, and entered into a Master
Listing Agreement with H.P. Greenfield, a real estate agency, to perform
various tasks and sell the property. Throughout this period our client
continued to have elevated blood lead levels. Approximately eight months
after H.P. became involved with the building, the Plaintiffs moved out
of the premises.
Defendant claimed that it was a mere real estate agency and never managed
the property. However, Mr. Giuffra argued that by virtue of the specific
terms of the Master Listing Agreement, H.P. Greenfield was actually in
exclusive control of the management of the premises on behalf of the owner,
and that H.P. could be held liable for lead paint poisoning pursuant to
Local Law 1 and common law negligence as the managing agent of the property.
This argument was decided in favor of our client in the lower court. However,
the Defendant appealed and the appellate Court also found they could be
liable as the managing agent.
The Defendant claimed if any management of the premises occurred, it was
the unauthorized conduct of an independent sales agent who was affiliated
with the real estate office. Since the acts were purportedly those of
an "independent contractor", H.P. claimed that it could not
be liable. We proved that H.P. would still be liable by virtue of its
entering into a sales agent contract which also imposed duties which involved
management of the premises. Additionally, H.P. was shown to be responsible
for the contractor's actions, all of which were performed on H.P.'s behalf.
It was a very hard battle establishing clear liability for our client's
damages because he sustained a higher blood lead level during the period
of ownership by the prior owner. Nevertheless, we argued that he should
not be liable since the Department of Health did not issue any lead violations
during his ownership period. We also argued that since it would be impossible
to determine to what extent Lameek's deficits were caused by the lead
poisoning sustained during each of the two periods of ownership, the Defendant
should be responsible for all of his damages under the doctrine of successive
tortfeasors. Lameek was classified as Learning Disabled and was placed
in special education for the entirety of his schooling. The evidence demonstrated
that he had to repeat several grades and ultimately dropped out of school
at age 17 after concluding a 10th grade Special Education program.
Both sides presented a neurologist and neuropsychologist who came to opposite
conclusions regarding the cause and extent of Lameek's deficits. Defendant
argued that decades ago the subject lead levels were regarded as average
levels and were not associated with brain injury. Accordingly, Defendant's
experts claimed based on this dated information, that the extensive cognitive
problems our client suffered from could not be attributed to his relatively
low lead levels.
Mr. Giuffra countered that the studies relied on by Defendant's experts were
twenty years out of date and more recent studies issued by the CDC recognized that low lead levels
of this kind were associated with a wide range of cognitive issues. Furthermore,
our experts argued the fact that our client sustained chronic lead exposure
from birth, together with ongoing elevated lead levels after he moved
out of the building, was particularly harmful because it occurred during
the period of time that his brain was developing and most susceptible
to toxic insult regardless of the lead level of the exposure.
Defendant also called an expert who opined that New York City's lead
testing was unreliable. However, the expert could not pin down an alternative
source for Lameek's elevated lead levels, nor was the order to abate
ever challenged by the Defendants.
Defendant also presented studies purportedly establishing the financial
impact of low blood lead levels. Relying on these studies, Defendant's
economist testified that Lameek's economic damages would only amount
to approximately $30,000.00. However, we contended that the studies were
outdated, as most were from the early 1990's. It was also argued that
the purpose of the studies was to demonstrate the economic impact to society
as a whole and did not reflect the pecuniary harm sustained to the lead
poisoned individual himself. Significantly, when questioned, Defendant's
expert conceded that if Lameek's deficits were all caused by lead
poisoning, then our economic expert's estimate of damages would be accurate.
The jury completely disagreed with the arguments offered by the Defendants
to try to escape from accountability for injuring our client. After three
hours of deliberations, the jury returned a unanimous verdict of
$11,000,000.00 in favor of our client. This was the
second multi-million dollar verdict Mr. Giuffra won on behalf of his clients in 2013 and was the
14thof his career.