In 1978, the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission banned the use of lead paint, which previously had been used in many residential buildings. Adding lead to paint helped the paint dry faster and improved its durability. However, the use of lead poses serious health risks, such as brain damage, developmental delays, seizures, nerve damage, and even coma or death, to children who ingest or breathe dust from flaking or peeling paint. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention uses a blood lead reference value of 3.5 micrograms per deciliter to identify children with higher blood lead levels than most children.
A tenant who suspects that their unit may contain lead paint can arrange a lead hazard inspection.
Although lead paint has not been used for decades, it remains present in many buildings constructed before 1978. This means that parents who live in an older home should be especially alert to the hazard. Landlords of properties built before 1978 generally have disclosure obligations to tenants under federal law. For example, they must reveal any information known to them about lead-based paint in the building, and they must provide a lead warning statement with the lease. Landlords also must give tenants a document produced by the Environmental Protection Agency on protecting their family from lead in the home. However, landlords are not required to remove lead-based paint.
Suing a Landlord Based on Lead Exposure
If a landlord failed to comply with federal disclosure requirements, and a child suffered harm from lead exposure, the landlord may be liable for a substantial amount of damages. These may include reimbursement for medical bills and any other out-of-pocket costs related to the lead exposure. If a child develops a long-term or permanent disability, parents can recover the costs of future treatment for the disability. In addition, compensation may cover non-economic damages, such as the pain and suffering that the child endured.
A tenant may receive up to three times the amount of their damages if a court finds that a landlord knowingly failed to comply with federal law. Knowing violations may support an award of court costs and attorney fees as well. Landlords may face fines from the federal government for non-compliance.
State and Local Laws
Some states, cities, and counties impose rules involving lead that are stricter than federal laws. A tenant may want to investigate whether a landlord has complied with these additional requirements.
Children’s Products Containing Lead
Federal law also imposes limits on lead in children’s products. Separate requirements apply to the total lead content of the product and to the lead contained in the paint or surface coating on the product. With narrow exceptions, children’s products must not contain more than 100 parts per million of total lead content in accessible parts. The total lead content limit does not apply to components of the product that are not accessible to a child in situations involving the normal and reasonably foreseeable use and abuse of the product. Meanwhile, children’s products (and some furniture) must not contain a concentration of lead greater than 90 parts per million in paint or surface coatings.
What Is a Children’s Product?
A children’s product is a consumer product that is designed or intended primarily for children who are 12 years old or younger. Factors considered in making this determination include statements by the manufacturer about the intended use of the product, the packaging and advertising of the product, and how consumers typically perceive the product.
If a manufacturer sells a children’s product that violates federal lead content rules, parents may hold the manufacturer liable for any injuries to their child that result. This would allow them to recover compensation for the physical and emotional harm that the child suffered, as well as the medical costs and other out-of-pocket expenses that the parents incurred. Even if liability seems clear, products liability cases can be complex and fiercely contested, so parents may want to consult a lawyer experienced in this area before bringing a claim.