Monday, October 03, 2016

As Baltimore Juries Begin Handing Out Million Dollar Damage Awards To Tenants Suffering From Lead Paint Poisoning, Victims Now Face Threat Of Never Collecting A Penny As Insurer Uses Lawsuits In Campaign To Back Out Of Its Obligations & Void Landlord Liability Insurance Policies On Hundreds Of Properties

In Baltimore, Maryland, The Baltimore Sun reports:
  • Chauncey Liles Jr. was poisoned by lead paint by the time he was 2 years old. Now 18, he says he's struggled ever since.

    He has trouble concentrating. Academic concepts came quickly to other students, he says, but he always had a hard time keeping up. The lead paint chips in the rental property where Liles lived cost him valuable IQ points, his lawyer argued in a successful lawsuit against the landlord.

    "I feel like I'm different and it's not fair," Liles says.

    Now Liles, of West Baltimore, faces another challenge. The $1.3 million a jury awarded his family last [month] is in jeopardy because of a legal dispute between a London-based insurance company and Liles' former landlord.

    The case is one of two large lead poisoning judgments awarded [last] month in lawsuits filed against landlords who are insured by London-based CX Reinsurance Co., which is attempting to rescind its insurance policies with landlords of hundreds of Baltimore properties. The other — a $1.6 million judgment for an East Baltimore teen diagnosed with even higher lead levels in his youth — also is in question.

    CX Reinsurance Co. has filed 15 lawsuits in federal court over the past two years seeking to rescind the insurance policies of landlords who are accused of exposing their tenants to poisonous lead chips and dust.

    Area lawyers say the company's actions could put the cases of at least 100 families in jeopardy because smaller landlords typically don't have enough cash or assets to cover damages awarded to families in lead-poisoning lawsuits.

    The Law Offices of Peter T. Nicholl, a firm that represents many lead-poisoned clients, has filed a complaint with the Maryland Insurance Administration accusing the company of committing "fraud" to avoid paying potential judgments. State officials said they are continuing an "active investigation."

    The insurance company "categorically rejects the allegations," said Ed Ruberry, a lawyer for CX Reinsurance. He said the company stands by its allegations that Baltimore-area landlords fraudulently failed to disclose lead violations when purchasing insurance policies decades ago.

    CX Reinsurance said in its court filings that many of the insurance policy applications were signed by Alfred Murray Slattery, an insurance agent who pleaded guilty to fraud in 2003. He admitted he had swindled more than $1.5 million from various companies and created fake insurance policies.

    Slattery said [] there was "no fraud whatsoever" of CX Reinsurance Co. He said he believes the company is merely trying to get out of paying judgments.
    ***
    Lawyer Robert Leonard, who represents Liles, said it could be years before Liles sees a dime of the money his family is owed.

    "We told Chauncey, 'Hang in there, be patient,'" Leonard said. "We're going to fight this battle. It might take years, but we're going to put up our best fight.

    Liles' lawsuit named as a defendant landlord Stanley Sugarman. A World War II veteran and former PTA president at Northwestern High School, Sugarman, 90, said he paid for his insurance policy decades ago and is a "nervous wreck" that the insurance company will back out of paying the judgment.

    He said he believes many landlords have chosen to let their properties go vacant rather than worry about defending lead poisoning lawsuits.

    "I've tried to run a real good business for 55 years in Baltimore," he said. "All of a sudden these lead paint issues arise. It's just a mess. It's horrible. I would venture to say that thousands of vacant houses are due to lead paint. ... I never dreamed 20 years ago that I would be dealing with these problems."

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