Ten California towns and cities took major paint manufacturers to court in mid-July, alleging that the manufacturers' aggressive marketing of lead paint during the first half of the 20th century has created a public nuisance that continues to threaten the health of children in the state. The 10 cities and towns seek $1 billion from the manufacturers to help with lead paint abatement.
The trial has entered its third week, and could last into late August. The presiding judge has already urged both sides to settle, but neither side appears willing to do so. In his comments, Santa Clara County (Calif.) Superior Court Judge James P. Kleinberg referenced previous lawsuits against paint manufacturers filed in Rhode Island and Milwaukee. In both earlier cases, paint makers emerged as winners of the trials.
This time, the results could be different for the defendants— Atlantic Richfield Co. (ARCO), ConAgra Grocery Products Co., E.I. du Pont de Nemours, NL Industries, Inc., and the Sherwin-Williams Co.—for several reasons. First, the stakes are far higher given California's size and the amount of money sought. Second, and crucial to this case, California's use of public nuisance laws go back to the Gold Rush days and have been invoked regularly since then. Thus, when the companies argue that prior Milwaukee and Rhode Island rulings show that those public-nuisance laws hold no merit on the topic of lead paint abatement, California courts may see things differently.
The trial is the latest twist in the on-going lead-paint debate. Over the past few weeks, remodelers have sounded off on the Environmental Protection Agency's Lead Renovation, Repair, and Painting Program in numerous letters to the editor on the topic—some against and some in support of the rule. Read up on the latest on the topic by visiting the Lead Paint section on the REMODELING website.
While REMODELING is following the case closely, the best, consistent legal coverage of the trial can be found on the legal journal Legal Newsline's website.