A Bronx mother received a measure of restitution this weekend when a jury awarded her $57 million, nearly eight years after her daughter tested positive for dangerously high levels of lead in her blood.
Public housing tenant Tiesha Jones was “overjoyed” at the jury’s stunning verdict against the New York City Housing Authority for its failure to carry out mandated lead inspections at her apartment. As a result, her daughter Dakota Taylor, who was just 4 years old at the time she was tested, suffered developmental delays from living in the lead-tainted dwelling.
“The tenants don’t have any hope here. It’s like we’re an afterthought,” Jones said of NYCHA officials, who despite evidence, insisted her apartment was lead-free. “They’re ruining our quality of life. They’re ruining our hopes and dreams.”
The New York Daily News reported that the verdict comes as the NYCHA and Mayor Bill De Blasio struggle to address concerning revelations that the authority neglected to perform thousands of lead-paint checks in aging apartments and even lied about having done them.
Jones, who moved into an apartment in the Fort Independence development in the Bronx in 1999, according to the newspaper. By 2010, she had six children in the apartment with her, including Taylor. She said the little girl’s blood-lead tests initially came back negative, but a re-test registered her at level of 45 micrograms per deciliter of lead — a level a nine times higher than what’s considered “acceptable.”
Jones said she felt “betrayed” upon hearing the results.
“I was mortified,” she told the New York Daily News. ” … They sent me letters every year stating that there’s no lead in the apartment. Here I was thinking I was safe, taking care of my children.”
After that, Jones said her daughter was given an individual education plan, or IEP, and placed in special education classes.
“The damage had already been done,” the mother added. “She didn’t have a chance to go to regular school.”
Department of Health inspectors came to conduct their own testing of Jones’ home soon after Taylor’s high lead levels were detected. At the time, the young girl was splitting her time between the apartment, a nearby babysitter’s apartment and her grandma’s home, according to the newspaper, so inspectors tested all three.
DOH found lead paint in both apartments, which were located in the Fort Independence complex, but none in the grandmother’s home. Moreover, two prior inspections at Jones’ apartment in in 2006 and 2008 were marked as “completed” but had no indication that it had been checked for lead.
Jones later sued the authority for its negligence and a jury on Friday awarded her a hefty $57 million payout.
“They are supposed to be done annually. That was not done,” she said of the inspections. “Imagine how many other residents have gone through this.”
Jones is now pursuing a law degree and serves as tenant leader at her new housing complex, Bailey Houses.