In a consolidated appeal by individuals alleging injury caused by landlord negligence relative to lead paint poisoning in childhood, the New York State Court of Appeals issued a ruling that our New York City injury lawyers believe could help bolster plaintiff claims.
In Hamilton v. Miller, (in conjunction with Giles v. Yi) and the court ruled plaintiffs in these cases should not be unnecessary burdened by a request to produce, prior to defense medical exams, doctor reports detailing diagnosis of each alleged injury purportedly caused by the exposure and establishment of a causal connection of each.
Basically, the defendant landlords sought to require plaintiffs to prove their case prior to trial, before they had even undergone court-ordered medical exams. Placing this undue burden on the plaintiff, the court found, was inherently unfair.
This was an important ruling for those who grew up in New York City, particularly following the 2001 New York State Court of Appeals decision that paved the way for more liability claims against landlords for exposure to lead paint. The unanimous ruling in Chapman v. Silber held that the presence of peeling paint in an apartment with young children could be considered constructive notice that the tenants could be at risk for lead poisoning. Prior to that ruling, tenants had to prove that a landlord had actual knowledge of lead-based paint in a tenant apartment.
In the Giles case, the plaintiff brought action against property owners of a rental unit in which he resided as a child, alleging exposure to lead paint while he lived there resulted in a host of more than three dozen health ailments. In his bill of particulars, he listed a total of 35 conditions, including physical, psychological and neurological disorders he reportedly suffered due to the defendant’s failure to abate the danger.
The defendants in the case subsequently requested copies of any and all reports by doctors who treated the defendant in advance of the defense medical exam. The plaintiff responded by disclosing some medical and educational records indicating he suffered lead poisoning as a child and that it had contributed to certain academic problems. However, those records didn’t detail every condition he alleged, nor did those documents connect them to the defendant’s supposed negligence.
The defendants moved to require the plaintiff to produce such evidence, or else preclude him from arguing those injuries at trial. The plaintiff filed a cross motion for a protective order, saying a request for such records was premature. The state supreme court granted this motion, and the appellate division affirmed, although one dissenting justice held such evidence shouldn’t be required at that early stage of litigation.
In the Hamilton case, the circumstances were similar. He alleged 58 medical ailments he suffered as a result of lead paint poisoning as a child, which he attributed to landlord liability. The defendants here made a similar request as those in the Giles case, and here again, the plaintiff moved for a protective order. A ruling was issued in favor of the defense. The appellate division affirmed.
However, upon further review, the court of appeals reversed. While noting that in most personal injury cases, the requirement to turn over medical records prior to trial is straightforward, allegations of injury caused by lead paint exposure in childhood are more complicated.
Plaintiffs argued they should only be required to turn over the medical records that exist at the time of the lawsuit, and should not be required to create new evidence for the benefit of the defense – particularly when doing so could be prohibitively expensive. The Court of Appeals agreed.
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Hamilton v. Miller, June 12, 2014, New York State Court of Appeals
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