Billion Dollar Lead-Paint Verdict Ends Industry's Win Streak

December 17, 2013
Bloomberg Businessweek

Paint manufacturers thought lead paint-liability litigation was dead. Not quite. A California state-court judge yesterday ordered Sherwin-Williams Co. (SHW)NL Industries Inc. (NL), and ConAgra Grocery Products LLC to pay $1.1 billion to replace or contain lead paint in millions of homes in a lawsuit brought by 10 cities and counties.

The large judgment broke the companies’ streak of fending off such suits in seven other states. Bloomberg News provides the essentials:

Superior Court Judge James Kleinberg in San Jose tentatively ruled against the companies after a non-jury trial that lasted about five weeks. Two other defendants, Atlantic Richfield Co., a Los Angeles-based unit of BP Plc (BP/), and Wilmington, Delaware-based DuPont Co. (DD), won dismissal of the claims against them. The local governments that sued includ[ed] Los Angeles County and the cities of San Diego and San Francisco….Los Angeles County will get $605 million for lead abatement in today’s ruling.

Kleinberg rejected the manufacturers’ arguments that paint was “not the whole problem,” and that alternate sources of lead contribute to poisoning. “Consistent with their arguments throughout the trial the defendants rely on statistics and percentages,” Kleinberg wrote. “When translated into the lives of children that is not a persuasive position. The court is convinced there are thousands of California children in the jurisdictions whose lives can be improved, if not saved through a lead abatement plan.” The companies have 15 days to object to the ruling.

Bonnie J. Campbell, a spokeswoman for the paint manufacturers, said via e-mail that the decision is “at odds with California law and judicial decisions across the country that have uniformly rejected similar public nuisance claims.” The ruling, she added, penalizes the manufacturers for “the truthful advertising of lawful products, done at a time when government officials routinely specified those products for use in residential buildings,” and “rewards scofflaw landlords who are responsible for the risk to children from poorly maintained lead paint.”  (To read the entire article, please click HERE)