From: Robina Suwol
Date: 16 Nov 2001
Remote Name: 188.8.131.52
On November 15, 2001, the New York Court of Appeals (New York's highest state court) issued a landmark decision concerning lead paint poisoning.
Ruling in the case of Chapman v. Silber, the Court in effect declared that landlords of older buildings rented to families with young children can no longer automatically claim ignorance as a defense - that a jury can infer that a reasonable landlord "should have known of the hazardous lead paint condition." (The decision in available at www.nmic.org/nyccelp.htm -- click on "latest news")
The decision by the Court of Appeals represents a major step in requiring landlords to take an active role in preventing lead poisoning.
The case involved a lead poisoned children who sought compensation for lead poisoning stemming from the landlords' negligent conduct. The lower court had ruled that the landlords could not be responsible for the lead poisoning of child because the landlords did not have "actual" knowledge of lead paint hazards, even though the landlords: -- knew that the premises was built at the beginning of the 1900s; -- knew that most older buildings in the area had lead paint; -- knew of the hazards of lead-based paint to children; -- knew there were young children living in the dwellings; -- were in the business of owning and managing rental property -- knew there was peeling or deteriorated paint in the premises; and -- had a contractual right under the lease to re-enter to make repairs. Yet the lower court had held, in essence, that no jury -- even under the totality of these circumstances -- could find that the landlords should have known about the lead hazards, and dismissed the cases.
The New York City Coalition to End Lead Poisoning (NYCCELP), joined by 25 other public interest organizations from around New York State, as well as prominent medical experts (including the Chair of the New York State Advisory Council on Lead Poisoning Prevention), had filed a "friends of the court" brief in this and a related case (available at www.nmic.org/nyccelp/documents/CHAPMAN-AMICUS- BRIEF.PDF) The friends of the court had brief asserted that the lower courts' decisions - which continued a long line of cases that rigidly insisted lead poisoned children must always prove that the landlord's actually knew of the lead content in deteriorated paint - promoted bad public policy by inducing property owners to act recklessly. These decisions encouraged landlords not to know about lead paint hazards in leased property housing small children - because if they know, they will have to act. The brief urged that a matter of sound law and public policy, it was far past the time to declare a legal doctrine that encourages landlords to act reasonably and responsibly.
The following parties joined the "friends of the court" brief: NEW YORK CITY COALITION TO END LEAD POISONING (NYCCELP) CHINESE PROGRESSIVE ASSOCIATION COMMITTEE FOR HISPANIC CHILDREN AND FAMILIES, INC. COMMUNITY SERVICE SOCIETY OF NEW YORK ENVIRONMENTAL ADVOCATES GREATER NEW YORK LABOR-RELIGION COALITION LEGAL SERVICES FOR NEW YORK, LEGAL SUPPORT UNIT MAKE THE ROAD BY WALKING METROPOLITAN COUNCIL ON HOUSING MOUNT VERNON UNITED TENANTS NEW YORK CITY ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE ALLIANCE NEW YORK LAWYERS FOR THE PUBLIC INTEREST NEW YORK PUBLIC INTEREST RESEARCH GROUP, INC. NEW YORK STATE TENANTS & NEIGHBORS COALITION, INC. PHYSICIANS FOR SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY, NEW YORK CITY PUBLIC HEALTH ASSOCIATION OF NEW YORK CITY PUERTO RICAN LEGAL DEFENSE AND EDUCATION FUND, INC. ROCHESTER LEAD FREE COALITION UNITED PARENTS AGAINST LEAD UTICA CITIZENS IN ACTION UTICA COMMUNITY ACTION, INC. WEST HARLEM ENVIRONMENTAL ACTION, INC. DEBORAH A. CORY-SLECHTA, Ph.D. PHILIP LANDRIGAN, M.D. I.H. MAUSS, M.D.; and JOHN F. ROSEN, M.D.