Statement From the Childhood Lead Action Project Regarding Tenant Victory in Claiborne v. Duff: Landlord to Pay Former Pawtucket Resident over $350,000 for Lead Poisoning
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
In a historic verdict announced last Friday, a Providence jury found Florida-based landlord Duncan Duff guilty of negligence in the 1998 lead poisoning of two-year-old Traecina Claiborne, now age 19. After a nearly two-week trial, the jury not only ordered Mr. Duff to compensate Ms. Claiborne for the pain and suffering caused by his failure to protect her from lead hazards at her Pawtucket apartment, but also imposed punitive damages in recognition of his reckless conduct. Including interest, the judgment comes to more than $350,000. This significant individual victory also has the potential to benefit the community as a whole, by inspiring other parents and tenants to take similar action, and by motivating landlords to comply with housing safety laws.
This strong verdict from the jury should serve to put local landlords on notice. Although the "profit over people" strategy of property management is sadly alive and well, victories like this show that the community is unwilling to allow exploitation and greed to win every time. Landlords who violate both the basic moral responsibility to provide their tenants with a safe environment as well as the laws that spell that concept out in specific detail are playing a game that they are more and more likely to lose.
We also hope that Ms. Claiborne's victory will encourage other tenants to take action - to assert their right to safe housing both individually and collectively, and to keep fighting to address the root causes of lead poisoning long-term. The Childhood Lead Action Project's members and staff know from personal experience how hard it can be to find the time and energy to stand up for your rights. We commend Traecina and her mother Wendy for their bravery and persistence in seeking justice through the courts, and for the inspiring example they set for all of us.
We heard many familiar echoes in Ms. Claiborne's testimony about how lead has affected her life. Sadly, her experiences exemplify the ugly reality that much of the decades-long burden of this preventable disease has been suffered by low-income families and people of color, perpetuated by existing wealth disparities and made worse by the disempowering forces of racism and and sexism. During the trial, we learned that Mr. Duff owned more than 100 properties in Pawtucket and Central Falls over the course of a career of buying, renting, and selling houses - so many that he was unable to recall the exact number in court. Years before Ms. Claiborne moved into the home where her blood lead level reached a shocking 51 mcg/dL, Mr. Duff had conducted step-by-step work to abate lead hazards at another rental property, guided by a comprehensive lead inspection and compliance monitoring process conducted by the Health Department. It is hard to imagine what other information or training could have been necessary to prepare or motivate him to protect future tenants from lead hazards. It appears to have simply been Mr. Duff's choice to ignore the facts, the law, and his own experiences.
Traecina Claiborne's victory is historic. Although settlements in similar cases are common, this is the only lead poisoning personal injury case we know of that has had a public trial in Rhode Island in the last two decades, if not longer. However, it is equally important to recognize that the legal system was not able to truly provide Traecina with justice. There is nothing the court can do to fix her cognitive impairments and eliminate the challenges she lives with every day. Likewise, this case serves as a reminder that justice for our community as a whole also requires looking beyond the current limitations of the law. It is painfully clear that the pervasive, dysfunctional dynamics of poverty, racism, and sexism will continue to poison more children like Traecina Claiborne until these systems are stopped. Despite the uphill battle ahead, when families like the Claibornes fight back and demand public accountability from those responsible their suffering, they make the longer-term fight to achieve a better society seem both more possible - and more urgent.
For more information about the lawsuit referenced in this statement, see this 7/24/15 press release from Motley Rice, LLC.
For more information about the Childhood Lead Action Project, contact:
The Childhood Lead Action Project is a local non-profit dedicated to eliminating childhood lead poisoning in Rhode Island through education, parent support, and community organizing.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Senator Jack Reed Honored by National and Local Groups
Credited with “Rebooting” Federal Healthy Homes/Lead Poisoning Prevention Efforts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
March 21, 2014 Providence, Rhode Island – The National Safe and Healthy Housing Coalition and the Childhood Lead Action Project delivered the Child Health Champion Award to U.S. Senator Jack Reed yesterday for securing federal funding for lead poisoning prevention. Lead poisoning is a preventable tragedy that dramatically impacts a child’s health and ability to learn.
“I am pleased we were able to restore funding for these important lead poisoning prevention programs, but our work is not finished. Millions of Americans, including a staggering number of children and families right here in Rhode Island, remain at risk. We must be proactive and continue to invest in the health and development of our children,” said Senator Reed.
Advocates and health officials were stunned in 2012 when Congress slashed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Healthy Homes/Lead Poisoning Prevention Program by 94% --from $29.0 to $2.5 million. Capitol Hill insiders advised that it would take a “miracle” to bring back funding for this program amidst the federal budget battles. The FY14 appropriations bill includes $15 million for the program.
“Senator Reed delivered a miracle for us,” said Rebecca Morley, executive director of the National Center for Healthy Housing. “Millions of kids will benefit. We simply couldn’t ask for a better and more effective leader in Congress on this issue.”
“We are relieved that the fight against childhood lead poisoning is back on track with funding for the CDC's Healthy Homes/Childhood Lead Poisoning Program. We may be the smallest state but we have some of the biggest champions of lead poisoning prevention in Congress with Senator Reed playing a pivotal role in restoring much needed funds,” said Roberta Hazen Aaronson, executive director of the Childhood Lead Action Project.
Senator Reed established National Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, which advocates celebrate nationally every year in October and he has introduced scores of bills on lead poisoning and healthy homes.
“I am honored to accept the National Child Health Champion Award today and thank all the men and women who work hard to reduce lead poisoning and protect children. The effects of lead poisoning cannot be reversed, but thanks to the great work of the National Center for Healthy Housing, the Childhood Lead Action Project, and other leading advocates, more families are getting screened and more communities are proactively adopting strategies to eliminate lead hazards in the home before children are exposed,” said Reed.
Each year Senator Reed leads efforts to maximize funding for HUD’s lead hazard control program and for CDC’s healthy homes/lead poisoning prevention program. HUD helps low-income families address lead-based paint hazards in their homes. CDC collects and disseminates all the data on childhood lead poisoning in the U.S. and its staff serve as the emergency responders to unusual outbreaks of the disease in the U.S. and abroad. The accomplishments of the CDC program are vast, including for example:
Also attending yesterday’s event at the Providence Public Library were state representatives: Art Handy, Raymond Hull, and Scott Slater. Staff from the offices of U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Congressman James R. Langevin, and Congressman David Cicilline also attended. Advocates sung their praises as well for supporting the inclusion of funding for lead poisoning prevention in the State budget and for keeping the issue visible nationally.
The Childhood Lead Action Project works to eliminate childhood lead poisoning through education, parent support and advocacy.
The National Safe and Healthy Housing Coalition is a network of advocates and practitioners, funded by the Kresge Foundation, with a mission of creating safe and healthy homes for all.
For Immediate Release
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This is a thrilling victory! Sometimes in this not-so-friendly world, the Goliaths are defeated and justice triumphs. This decision against the lead paint industry is deeply meaningful for families devastated by lead poisoning and for a community that has borne the cost of this industry-made public health disaster.
A quick look at history shows the importance of holding the companies who profited from the sale of lead paint accountable for their actions. While the industry marketed lead-free paint to the European community and protected farm animals from the dangers of lead, children in the United States continued to be exposed to lead-based paint in their cribs, their toys and in their homes. The lead industry knowingly poisoned our children - particularly poor and minority children. It’s long overdue that the industry compensate the community for this tremendous injustice.
Although we remain outraged that our Rhode Island Supreme Court got it wrong in 2008, we are thrilled that Judge Kleinberg recognized the basic facts of the case and came to the right conclusion that the industry was responsible for poisoning California's children. As an organization committed to the cause of eliminating childhood lead poisoning, we savor this historical moment and will continue to advocate for justice for RI's children.
For Immediate Release