The Lead Paint Litigation

By May 16, 2008Briefly Legal

The state of Rhode Island’s lawsuit against lead-paint manufacturers is all about finding somebody in the private sector to pick up the costs for an unnecessary $2.4 billion clean-up plan, even though there’s no specific connection to the companies. Perhaps their blame emanates from the penumbras given off by a house painted ….in 1938…in Ohio.

At any case, attorneys for the companies presented compelling arguments yesterday in the four-hour hearing held by the Rhode Island Supreme Court of their appeal of a jury verdict in the public nuisance suit brought by the state. From the AP:

The state never proved the toxic products produced by the companies ended up in the homes of Rhode Islanders, argued lawyers for Sherwin-Williams Co., NL Industries Inc. and Millennium Holdings LLC. The companies are appealing a 2006 verdict that found them liable in the first-ever jury ruling against the industry…[snip]

Industry lawyers told the state Supreme Court they were being held responsible for a product that was pulled off the market decades ago, and that state law already holds landlords and homeowners responsible for cleaning up lead paint. They said the state was allowed to argue the overall presence of lead paint in homes creates a public nuisance without identifying any of the company’s products in particular homes.

“That one concept is responsible for getting the train off the track in many respects,” said William Kayatta, a lawyer for Millennium Holdings. “Because once you accept that, you’re not dealing with reality.”

The Providence Journal has a thorough story on yesterday’s hearing, as well.

And again, we highly recommend Jane Genova at Law & More for her continuing coverage. This post was especially good:

I thought I was hearing wrong when one the of Justices cut Motley Rice attorney Fidelma Fitzpatrick short when she was starting her usual rant about lead paint is bad. I looked over to the man sitting next to me. He was bug-eyed. So, we both hadn’t heard wrong. it was going to get a lot more intense.

The smart four men they are – one justice recused – they were going to find a narrow passageway through the public nuisance and contingency messes through questions of law. That’s what they wanted. The attorneys representing the defendants Sherwin-Williams, Millennium Holdings and NL Industries and acquitted Atlantic Richfield stuck to the points of law. The plaintiff representatives did not. They came prepared with stylized rhetoric and kept to the script.

Motley Rice is the law firm the state hired on a contingency basis. And from the portions of the hearing we watched, Genova’s summary is right on the mark. See for yourself: The Supreme Court web-archived the hearing, which you can watch it here.

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