LOS ANGELES, Calif. − The Los Angeles-based plaintiff’s trial law firm McNicholas & McNicholas obtained a $10 million settlement against the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) on behalf of the family of Connor M., a 4 year-old who ingested lead-based paint at Caltrans’ residential rental property. Plaintiff alleged the lead exposure left him with permanent neurological damage rendering him unable to speak. However, Defendant had expert witness testimony to contradict that position, putting forth the conclusions that it could have be an autism spectrum disorder. The Superior Court of California approved the settlement on Wednesday, July 15th.
Caltrans, among other things, acquires land in order to undertake transportation related projects, like proposed future freeway extensions and expansions. The rental home at issue was one such property. As such, it was maintained and operated by an arm of Caltrans. In other words, Caltrans was the landlord.
The Plaintiff had evidence that the property manager ignored multiple complaints by the Plaintiff’s mother that there was paint chipping off the floors and walls which might be dangerous to her child. The on-site manager told her the problem was “cosmetic in nature” even though the structure was built in the early 1900’s.
“As result of the litigation, the parties reached a settlement that will help the young Plaintiff make his way through life. Not being able to speak will be a huge hurdle to overcome, especially when the condition starts in infancy” said lead counsel Matthew McNicholas. “After undergoing very thorough discovery, Caltrans stepped up and resolved a tough case for a great kid. Also, Caltrans has implemented new and improved training standards for its employees that monitor and maintain its rental properties, specifically focusing on potential lead exposure. This is huge win-win, and we applaud Caltrans for being aggressive in remedying potential future issues.”
Caltrans, which owned the property since 2008, rents residential properties pending the approval of its freeway expansion projects. The boy’s mother, grandmother, Cynthia Wright, had been living on the property since 2005. Connor and his mother, Heather Nolan, moved into the property in October 2010 when Connor was just one month old. Chipped and peeling paint throughout the exterior and interior of the property was readily visible to Caltrans property inspectors starting in 2009. The family also reported the deteriorating paint in 2011. Despite the obvious deteriorating conditions at this older home, Caltrans decided to treat the matter as cosmetic and therefore not warrant budget for repair. Even when a test for lead purchased by Wright and Nolan at a hardware supply store turned out positive, no action was taken by Caltrans. The agency was soon thereafter cited by the Los Angeles Department of Public Health in 2012 when a blood test revealed that Connor was lead poisoned, but it took the agency another five months to begin the lead abatement.
Connor had been exposed to lead-based paint hazards at the property since his infancy. By the time he was 16 months old, Connor could no longer form words. Connor will require extensive care for the rest of his life costing millions of dollars.