How 2 Industries Impeded Justice for Young Lead Paint Victims

Without insurance, there is little chance of getting money back for a child when a landlord is short on funds. Property owners with significant holdings have found ways to legally distance themselves from problem rents, increasingly using LLCs to hide assets and identities. In 2019, for example, a Virginia family who received a $2 million judgment agreed to accept just $140,000 after the landlord, a major real estate developer, evaded collection efforts.

As a result, plaintiffs’ attorneys — who often work with contingencies, presenting costs and collecting payments only if there is a favorable judgment or favorable settlement — are increasingly reluctant to file lawsuits.

Without the obstacles, “I would still be facing a jury,” said Richard Serpe, an attorney who represented the Virginia family and stopped taking leading cases last year after working on it for three decades. “We have shifted the burden onto the people who are least able to handle it, namely these children.”

The issue of lead poisoning has taken on a new urgency: In October, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lowered the threshold for identifying those at risk, meaning many more children are being found to have elevated lead levels. In New York state alone, that number would almost double, from about 6,000 new cases a year to about 11,500, according to health data reviewed by The Times.

No exposure to lead is considered safe, and according to the CDC, even low levels of lead have been shown to affect a child’s intelligence, learning ability, and behavior the cost of care – billions of dollars annually for medical treatment and special education.

The ultimate goal is to eliminate lead hazards so children are not exposed at all, which local, state, and federal agencies are tackling with limited success. David Jacobs, senior researcher at the National Center for Healthy Housing, points out that there are known remedies for dangerous properties, and argues that landlords and insurers, who can make or deny coverage for them, have a role to play in the solution the problem. “We can’t afford to continue ignoring it – it costs too much and does too much damage,” he said.

Some states have restricted or attempted to ban insurance exclusions — a bill is pending in New York — but the insurance and real estate industries have resisted such action. management Those companies say that without addressing the presence of lead paint before a child is poisoned, requiring lead coverage would collapse the insurance market and skyrocket housing costs.

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