Three lead-poisoned children of a Baltimore woman and a young cousin were awarded nearly $1 million in Baltimore Circuit Court yesterday when attorneys and insurance companies for several area landlords agreed to settle the case.
The settlement provided a total of $967,500 to be divided between about $200,000 in hospital bills and trust funds for the four youngsters.
That amount probably is the largest lead-paint award ever to come out of Baltimore courts, according to Ira C. Cooke, a lawyer who is a lobbyist for the Property Owners Association of Greater Baltimore Inc. The association represents owners of about 75,000 rental units.
"This should be a warning to all landlords to test their premises for lead paint, and not to move kids into these places" if the paint is peeling, chipping or flaking, said C. Christopher Brown, an attorney who represented Jennie Short, her three children and her niece in the civil suit brought against four landlords of four East Baltimore properties where the children lived in a two-year period.
Two of the children suffered permanent brain damage from the poisoning, according to the suit, and two recovered. They are Mrs. Short's children -- Tasha Leak, 10, James Short Jr., 8, and Marcus Lowrey, 6 -- and Paris Merriman, 8, a cousin.
The defendants were the landlords of four row houses -- on Holbrook Street, Rutland Avenue and Barclay Street -- where the woman and the children lived between October 1983 and November 1985.
Mr. Brown said an insurance company for landlord David Fishbein paid $525,000 of the settlement; the Baltimore Management Co. paid $415,000; Zelick A. Gresser paid $20,000 and the estate of the late Edward Muniak paid $7,500.
The money will cover the estimated $205,000 cost of medical care at the John F. Kennedy Institute for Handicapped Children, with the rest to be available to the children when they reach age 18.
Mr. Fishbein's attorney, Donald E. Allen, said his client was innocent of the poisoning of the children. "When the family moved into those premises there was nothing wrong with it," Mr. Allen said about one of the houses.
He said lead paint in the house began to chip after it was damaged by the Short family. "It was the tenants themselves that did it," Mr. Allen said.