Wednesday, April 23, 2014
SKOWHEGAN -- A case in which a Solon landlord was found not responsible for lead paint contamination that allegedly made his tenants' young son ill is being appealed to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.
Melissa Hewey, the lawyer for Paula Bratton and Daniel Hills Sr., said the case is being appealed on the grounds that the jury was not allowed to hear experts testify on the health dangers lead contamination can cause.
"The jury did not hear the full testimony of our experts, a behavioral psychologist and a toxicologist," she said. "We think that is an error of law."
Martica Douglas, lawyer for landlord Halsey McDonough, of Gardiner, said that the two experts were allowed to testify, but were limited to "within their areas of expertise."
"The psychologist was not permitted to testify that any behavior could be attributed to lead poisoning because it goes beyond his area of expertise in special ed and behavioral problems," she said.
Douglas also said she is confident the jury made the right decision.
"The jury was very attentive throughout the case and listened carefully to all the evidence. We respect their verdict. I don't think there were any legal errors made," she said.
But Hewey said, "We believe that the court made some errors of law by excluding our experts. The fact is that lead has caused children's deaths and the jury was not allowed to hear that."
The transcript of the trial, which took place in July in Somerset County Superior Court, is still being processed by the court reporter who recorded it. It will be reviewed by the court before a schedule is set for the appeal.
Douglas said that it will probably be a year before the appeal is resolved.
The original trial was the result of a lawsuit brought by Bratton and Hills claiming that their son, Levi, was poisoned by lead paint in a house they lived in and rented from Halsey McDonough on South Main Street in Solon.
The four-bedroom house that the family rented for $450 a month was found to have environmental lead hazards in November 2008 by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
A blood test in 2008 showed that the lead levels in Levi's blood tested higher than normal and he was showing signs of attention deficit disorder.
"Levi has lead poisoning -- it is likely that he will have future impacts from his exposure now," said Tina Bernier, environmental coordinator for the Maine Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program at the State Department of Health and Human Services, in 2008.
Douglas, at the time of the trial, said that it is hard to prove that any health or developmental problems Levi might have are because of the lead paint in the house. She noted that it is not illegal to own or rent a house with lead paint and that many children in Maine have learning disabilities, regardless of exposure to lead.
But Hills said, "So many people are not educated about this issue. There are a lot of environmental hazards in old houses that affect a lot of children in Maine. Landlords need to better educate their tenants about it."
Rachel Ohm -- 612-2368