Processing Magazine

Rhode Island top court overturns lead paint ruling

July 2, 2008
According to Reuters, Rhode Island''s top court recently overturned a landmark lower court ruling that found three former manufacturers of lead paint liable for creating a public nuisance by covering up the health risks of lead paint.

Sherwin-Williams Co, NL Industries Inc and Millennium Holdings had asked the Rhode Island Supreme Court to reverse a February 22, 2006, jury verdict that could have forced them to spend an estimated $2.4 billion on cleaning up contaminated paint around the state.

Rhode Island''s long-awaited decision could influence court decisions in other states, counties and cities where lead-poisoning lawsuits are pending. The case had drawn comparisons to the tobacco lawsuits that ultimately led to a settlement that cost cigarette makers more than $200 billion.

The court said that landlords who allowed lead paint to decay on their properties could be liable.

Sherwin-Williams'' stock had been hammered to two-year lows after the 2006 decision.

Rhode Island accused paint manufacturers of covering up the risk of lead paint in its lawsuit filed in 1999, the first in the nation to seek to hold paint makers responsible.

Rhode Island authorities say more than 30,000 children were poisoned by lead paint in the state, with an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 homes contaminated by the paint. The cost of cleaning one home is estimated at up to $15,000.

The U.S. government banned lead paint in 1978 after studies showed it caused health problems in children, including learning disabilities and permanent brain damage.

But its presence remains widespread, especially in older homes in the Northeastern United States. Rhode Island children routinely test above the national average for blood-lead levels.

The paint companies have denied that they were directly responsible, saying landlords, not paint makers, should be held accountable for conditions that expose children to lead. A Rhode Island court in 2006 denied punitive damage claims against the paint companies.

The Rhode Island Supreme Court said a trial judge erred by denying the defendants'' motion to dismiss.