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Lead paint – Juarez Court of Appeal Decision

Decision Eases Lead Liability of Landlords

On July 2, 1996 New York's highest court held that to be liable for damages resulting from lead poisoning of a child, the landlord must have knowledge that the child is living in the apartment. The unanimous decision by the Court of Appeals overturns the finding of the Appellate Division in the Juarez case which had held that New York City's Local Law #1 imposes an affirmative duty to inspect apartment units for lead irrespective of notice that a child lives therein.

The Juarez case involved a tenant who, in violation of lease prohibitions against subletting without approval of the owner, sublet one of the bedrooms and shared the kitchen and bathroom in his apartment to a woman and her two children. A year later, th e child was diagnosed with lead poisoning, and the regulatory process kicked into gear. In the original law suit, the plaintiffs argued that the landlord's failure "to keep the apartment free of lead-based paint, in violation of Local Law 1, gives rise t o absolute liability."

In overturning the lower courts decision, the Court of Appeals concluded, "To be liable for injuries caused by the lead hazard, then, a landlord must have actual or constructive notice of both the hazardous condition and the residency of a child six years of age or younger." Since the first notice the landlord had of the presence of a child was the notification from the City Health Department after the child had been diagnosed, the owner of the property was not liable A key finding was that landlords do not have a duty to continuously inspect apartments for the presence of children.

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