Court Issues Tentative Order in Lead Paint Litigation in Favor of Cities and Counties

December 16, 2013

On December 16, 2013, in a landmark decision, a Santa Clara judge ordered Conagra Grocery Products Company, NL Industries, Inc. and The Sherwin-Williams Company who promoted lead paint for use in houses while knowing that the paint was harmful to children to pay $1.1 Billion to remove lead paint from homes in 10 jurisdictions.  The decision comes after 13 years of litigation brought by the Counties of Santa Clara, Alameda, Los Angeles, Monterey, San Mateo, Solano, and Ventura; the City and County of San Francisco; and the Cities of San Diego and Oakland on behalf of the people living in their jurisdictions. 

Although lead paint was banned in 1978, it remains on millions of homes in California.  Each year, thousands of children under six are diagnosed with lead poisoning; most of them were exposed to lead through the paint in their homes.  Lead paint deteriorates over time leaving contaminated paint chips or dust that gets on toys and other objects which young children put in their mouths.  Lead poisoning causes acute and chronic damage to a child’s renal system, red blood cells, and developing brain and nervous system.  The impact is especially great on minorities and children living in poverty, but any child living in a house with lead paint can be poisoned. 

The lawsuit, first brought by Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, LLP on behalf of the County of Santa Clara in 2000 sought to hold the lead paint manufacturers responsible for the harm that they have caused to children.  The lead paint manufacturers spent hundreds of millions of dollars, money that could have been used to remedy the problem, to litigate the case.  In 2006, the California Court of Appeal affirmed that the public entities stated a cause of action for public nuisance and could obtain abatement if proven.  In July of this year, the Honorable James P. Kleinberg in a court trial heard testimony from medical and scientific experts and public health employees from the 10 jurisdictions about the harmful effects of lead paint which were known by Conagra Grocery Products Company, NL Industries, Inc. and The Sherwin-Williams Company when they promoted lead paint for use in homes.

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