‘Motley Legal Crew’

By February 28, 2006Briefly Legal

Great editorial in the Wall Street Journal yesterday by the above title, hitting the nail on the head on the topic of the verdict last week in Rhode Island against makers of paint for alleged lead exposure. Interestingly enough, as the editorial points out, the plaintiff here was the Rhode Island Attorney General, not anyone claiming to be injured by ingestion of lead paint.

No matter that one of the defendants last had lead in its paint in the 30’s and that it virtually disappeared from the market entirely in the 50’s — or that this is harm alleged from a use not anticipated by the product, a legal theory we’ve seen many times before, in many forms. The penalty phase continues and no doubt the over-eager court will throw the checkbook at the defendants when the time comes.

Of course, the Motley firm (that’s not an adjective, it’s a surname) stands to gain 16-2/3 of any recovery amount. Once again, cherchez the lawyers and another target, this time the paint industry. As the Journal concludes:

” The bizarre tort theory….is terrible news for the paint business and the thousands of people it employs, and it has potential ramifications for other industries that make lawful products that years later turn out to have healthy or safety problems. It also demonstrates once again that ‘liability’ in America has become completely untethered to either legal precedent or basic fairness.”

The Journal got it right, the court in Rhode Island got it wrong. One more bad example of regulation through litigation.