Court rules city Housing Authority is not immune from lead lawsuits

January 04, 2002|BY A SUN STAFF WRITER

The Housing Authority of Baltimore City is not immune from lawsuits arising from lead paint poisoning even though its liability insurance no longer covers such claims, Maryland's intermediate appellate court ruled yesterday.

The ruling came in four cases in which children who lived in or visited houses operated by the authority experienced elevated blood lead levels after being exposed to lead paint.

The authority's lead paint liability coverage was terminated by its insurance carrier nearly five years ago. Without such insurance, the agency argued that it would not be able to satisfy any judgment issued against it and thus should be immune from being sued.

In rejecting the argument, the Court of Special Appeals said: "If such a practice would be allowed, governmental agencies would be able to manufacture their own immunity simply by allowing their insurance to lapse."

The court said that the "controlling" law was a ruling last year by the Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, which said a $200,000 limit on damages against local governments did not apply to the Housing Authority. The city's insurance was still in effect then.

Yesterday's ruling came on "interlocutory appeals" on motions for summary judgment in the cases in Baltimore City Circuit Court - meaning final judgments by the trial court had not been rendered.

Authority spokesman Kevin Brown said the agency would have no comment until its lawyers had a chance to review the decision.

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