Friday, May 24, 2013
By Doug Harlow firstname.lastname@example.org
SKOWHEGAN -- A Gardiner landlord was found not responsible Tuesday for injuries to his tenants' young son in Solon.
Landlord Halsey McDonough of Gardiner and his attorney Madeline Malisa speak on Tuesday in Skowhegan after a jury found McDonough not responsible for injuries to tenants caused by conditions in his Solon apartment building.
Staff photo by David Leaming
Paula Bratton and Dan Hills hold their children, Levi and Zoie, at the home they rent in Solon in 2008. The family says the exposed lead paint throughout the home has forced them to paint over walls, background, windows and floors where paint chips emerge to reduce exposure.
Staff file photo by David Leaming
A jury in Somerset County Superior Court said landlord Halsey McDonough was not negligent and did not cause injury to Levi Hills, now 6, in a house McDonough owned on South Main Street.
The boy's parents, Paula Bratton and Daniel Hills Sr., filed a lawsuit claiming Levi was poisoned by the lead paint in the rented home.
While there was no denying that lead paint was present in the house that Levi, his parents and two siblings lived, there was insufficient evidence that it was the cause of the boy's impairment, said McDonough's lawyer, Martica Douglas, of Portland.
"The children have some learning issues and some behavioral issues that we never felt amounted to real disabilities," Douglas said. "They clearly have some challenges with learning. They each had slightly different sets of issues, but only one child actually remained in the case, Levi."
Douglas said all old houses in Maine have lead paint, but it is not illegal to own or rent a house that contains lead paint. She added that learning disabilities are not uncommon among children in Maine, regardless of any exposure to lead paint.
"It's very hard to prove that the problem was due to exposure to lead," she said.
McDonough, who said he still owns about 10 properties in Solon and other properties in the Augusta area, declined to comment on the verdict.
The house the family rented was declared to have environmental lead hazards in November 2008 by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
A specialist at the Maine Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program at the state Department of Health and Human Services said in February 2009 that Levi, then 3, had lead poisoning.
The child's pediatrician at the Bingham Area Health Center confirmed the boy's high levels of lead.
The complaint filed by Bratton and Hills detailing their allegations and demands had been sealed until the conclusion of the trial and was not yet available on Tuesday.
Bratton said in a 2009 interview that Levi was tested for the presence of lead when he was about a year old, as a routine measure ordered by the state for all children in Maine. The family had lived in the same house since 2004.
Bratton showed no emotion when Judge Kevin Cuddy read the verdict. She declined to comment when leaving the courthouse Tuesday.
Her lawyer, Melissa Hewey, said the unanimous verdict by the jury of nine men and women baffled her.
She said she believes the child clearly had been affected by lead paint and that she may appeal the verdict.