Attorneys

In landmark ruling, court orders paint companies to pay to clean lead paint out of California homes

November 15, 2017
Los Angeles Time

n a ruling that could set a precedent for lawsuits over the effects of climate change, a panel of appeals judges on Tuesday found three paint manufacturers responsible for the health hazards of lead paint in California homes and upheld an order that they pay to abate the dangers.

The companies — ConAgra, NL Industries and Sherwin-Williams — had been ordered by a trial court in 2014 to pay a combined $1.15 billion for a lead paint abatement program in 10 counties and cities covering homes built before 1978, when lead paint in homes was outlawed.

In their ruling issued Tuesday, three judges of the California Court of Appeal narrowed the program to homes built before 1951, when the paint companies said they ceased actively advertising residential lead-based paint. It isn’t clear how much the abatement fund would be reduced by the order, though an attorney for the plaintiff counties and cities estimated that the companies still would be on the hook for about $600 million.

“This case is all about children,” said the attorney, Joseph Cotchett. He observed that thousands of children in low-income families in Los Angeles alone have been shown by tests to have elevated levels of lead in their blood.

Even though lead hasn’t been used in homes in decades, he said, “thousands and thousands of homes are out there still with lead paint in their interior walls.”

The appellate ruling may have ramifications beyond the hazard of lead paint. That’s because the judges upheld the plaintiffs’ argument that the marketing of lead paint created a “public nuisance” — a doctrine commonly applied to landlords operating drug dens or factories with noxious emissions, but seldom on broad environmental grounds. A similar public nuisance argument is at the heart of lawsuits recently filed against major fossil fuel companies by cities and counties in California blaming them for a sea-level rise associated with climate change... (To read the entire article, please click HERE)