AUBURN — A jury sided with Lewiston landlords in a lawsuit that claimed they were responsible for a tenant's lead poisoning.
Six members of the jury of five women and four men determined after three and a half hours of deliberation that Double Eagle Properties LLC shouldn't be held liable for the elevated blood-lead levels of 7-year-old Sami Tag who lived in an apartment at 93 Walnut St. in Lewiston.
At just over age 2 , Tag's test for blood-lead levels showed he was many times over the U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommended limits.
William D. Robitzek, attorney for plaintiff Ali Tag, argued during closing arguments after five days of testimony that the building's owners should have replaced windows in the apartment that created dust that contained lead paint.
Sami Tag suffered permanent brain damage as a result of high blood-lead levels, Robitzek said. Tag has behavioral problems, a lowered IQ and learning disabilities.
"It would have been easy for Double Eagle to prevent this harm from happening," Robitzek told the jury during closing arguments Monday in Androscoggin County Superior Court.
Doctors who testified at the trial said Tag's heightened blood-lead levels would explain his current problems.
Robitzek, who argued for a jury award of more than $11 million, said the boy likely would have to live in a group home where his needs are cared for.
The verdict was "really unfortunate for the family," which is going to have to rely on taxpayers to help pay for Sami Tag's care the rest of his life, Robitzek said Tuesday.
Matica Douglas, who represented landlords Rick and Cheryl Breton, said the jury's verdict was proper based on the facts of the case.
"The evidence was not there to prove that this was my clients' responsibility," she said. "There was no neglect."
The landlords had painted the entire apartment with the proper, highly durable paint before Sami Tag moved in. The owners complied with all local, state and federal legal requirements regarding lead paint, Douglas said.
Moreover, they made the proper disclosures and Rick Breton even took a class in lead paint treatment "because he wanted to make sure he did things right," Douglas told the jury during her closing argument.
An inspection done before Sami Tag moved in OK'd it for occupancy, Douglas said.
After Tag's blood-lead levels sparked concerns, Double Eagle followed the prescribed guidelines, Douglas said.
Androscoggin County Superior Court Justice MaryGay Kennedy instructed the jury to first consider whether the defendants were negligent, then whether their negligence was the legal cause of Tag's damages.
The jury was told the threshold of proof for a verdict was a preponderance of evidence.
Both sides had stipulated that 90 percent of Lewiston's housing stock has lead paint. A verdict favoring the plaintiff may have had a chilling effect on area apartment rentals to families with children, Douglas said.