The Washington Post

Greenbelt man loses lawsuit alleging damage from secondhand smoke

For about 15 years, David S. Schuman alleged, the smoking of a next door neighbor at his Greenbelt townhouse cooperative has caused him to suffer ill physical effects from secondhand smoke.

The effects were so bad that Schuman spent tens of thousands of dollars in savings to sue the cooperative and the neighbor, Darko Popovic.

In closing arguments in the civil trial in Prince George’s Circuit Court on Thursday, Schuman’s attorney, J.P. Szymkowicz, detailed the problems Schuman has endured: watery eyes, sneezing, congestion, and coughing.

Jason Fisher, attorney for the coop, Greenbelt Homes Inc., said the cooperative had taken steps to respond to Schuman, such as having a worker seal the walls that separated Schuman’s home from Popovic’s.

The smoking neighbor, Popovic, who represented himself, said he only smokes outside his townhouse since his wife was diagnosed with a brain tumor (in March 2010). Popovic said he is down to two cigarettes a day.

From the bench, Circuit Court Judge Albert W. Northrop took several minutes to describe his own experiences with the bad effects of smoking, including losing a sister who died in 2001. “There’s no question smoking killed her,” Northrop said. When he was the managing partner of a law firm, Northrop said, he banned smoking n the office. In his own home, the judge said, he used to have next-door neighbors whose smoking would bother him.

Then, Northrop ruled against Schuman.

The judge said smoking is not allowed on airplanes, in restaurants in Maryland, and in the Upper Marlboro courthouse. Those decisions were made by federal and state lawmakers, not judges, Northrop said.

“This is a legislative decision,” Northrop said. “Not all nuisances are necessarily actionable.”

In a civil trial, the plaintiff has the right to ask for a trial by judge. Schuman and his attorneys asked for a bench trial, and the defendants did not object.

The trial began in August, but was delayed first by the earthquake which rocked the Washington region, and then by the torrential storms that caused the courthouse to be shut down late that month.


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