Maryland Appeals Court Overturns Part of Circuit Court’s Exclusion of Lead Paint Exposure Expert

A pediatrician testified as to the medical causation of lead-paint exposure.  After a circuit court excluded this testimony, the plaintiff’s appealed.  The appeals court reversed this decision.

Facts: This negligence case (Jakeem Roy v. Sandra B. Dackman, et al – Maryland Court of Appeals – October 16th, 2015) involves lead exposure to an eight year old boy living in Baltimore, Maryland.  The plaintiff hired two experts to assist in proving his case, one of which, Dr. Eric Sundel, a board certified pediatrician,  is the subject of the present opinion.  Industrial medicine expert witnesses will want to read this case closely.

After spending two years residing in a house located in Baltimore City, Maryland, Jakeem Roy, started showing symptoms that could have possibly been caused by lead paint exposure.  His parents sued the owners of the residence for negligence, saying that they knew of the lead paint issue but didn’t do anything to fix the situation.  To help them prove their case, the hired Dr. Sundel and Robert K. Simon, Ph.D., an industrial hygienist and environmental lead risk assessor.  The defendants challenged the testimony of both of these experts, stating that they both lack the qualifications and factual basis to opine about the source of Roy’s injuries.  The circuit court denied this motion.  After this ruling, another court filed an opinion in another lead paint case, in which Dr. Sundel was also hired as an expert.  The judge in that case excluded the testimony of Dr. Sundel, stating that he did not receive any training in lead-paint cases nor does he have any experience in treating children with lead paint exposure.

The defendants in the present case filed another motion to exclude Dr. Sundel’s testimony based on the ruling in the other lead paint exposure case.  The circuit court subsequently ruled that Dr. Sundel’s testimony should now be excluded.  The plaintiff’s appealed the decision:

Discussion:  The appeals court looked at two parts of Dr. Sundel’s testimony:  His opinion on the source of the lead exposure and the medical causation of the exposure.  In looking at past cases held in the appeals court, the judges opined that Dr. Sundel was not qualified to offer an opinion as to the source of Roy’s lead paint exposure.  The court stated that, as a pediatrician, his reliance on circumstantial evidence is not enough for him to be considered an expert on the source of lead.  In addition, Dr. Sundel’s testimony did not rule out other sources of possible lead exposure and there was no discussion of Dr. Sundel’s methodology that lead to his conclusions.

Moving on to the medical causation piece of their opinion, the court opined that Dr. Sundel would be allowed to testify on this piece of the case.  The court ruled that, in an affidavit that was submitted after he was excluded from testifying in the other similar case (mentioned above), Dr. Sundel was more specific about his qualifications.  He stated that, since the other case, he has read more extensively on lead poisoning in children.  In addition, in this case, he had the assistance of other experts to assist in his testimony, namely a professional lead risk assessor and neuropsychologist.   This court agreed allowing him to testify on the medical causation oh Roy’s lead paint exposure.

Held: The opinion of the circuit court excluding Dr. Sundel from testifying on the source of lead exposure was affirmed, but their exclusion of his testimony on the cause of exposure was overturned.