The paint companies, fully aware of the health effects, profited immensely from their deadly paint. Moreover, most of these companies still exist in some form and continue to profit from their past misdeeds. At the same time, many children live in pre-1978 housing and are therefore tragically at risk for lead poisoning. State and local governments have borne substantial costs enforcing safety measures that protect children from being poisoned.
Things were worse than usual in Providence, Rhode Island. It was known as “the lead-paint capital of the country because so many children were poisoned.”
Enter former Rhode Island Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse and later his successor, Patrick Lynch. These pioneering AG’s sued Sherwin-Williams and two other companies, seeking to hold them responsible for some of the overwhelming health care and housing costs associated with lead-poisoned children. They knew that, as with the tobacco cases, the state would be swamped with delay tactics if they attempted such large-scale litigation without help. Such tactics had already squashed smaller private plaintiff lawsuits in cases involving lead paint poisoning. So the AG’s office hired outside counsel to aid them in the massive lawsuit, the Motley Rice firm. And they won!
In February 2006, a jury returned a multibillion-dollar verdict against the three companies - the first state lead paint verdict ever! The verdict mandated that the companies fund the removal of lead paint from more than 300,000 Rhode Island homes. When the case moved to the state Supreme Court on appeal, 16 states supported Rhode Island.
But much to the dismay of child safety advocates and the state, the Court reversed the verdict two years ago. Since then, the paint companies have been trying to force the state and Motley Rice to pay their legal costs. And luckily, yesterday the judge's response was the right one: NO WAY!
He ruled that the case ‘“brought significant attention to the serious harms of lead poisoning in Rhode Island, leading to an increased awareness in both the public and state officials.’ As a result, he said, the rate of lead poisoning declined by 76 percent from 1995 to 2004, and the General Assembly passed a new law designed to further reduce the poisonings.” In other words, “the state’s claims were ‘neither frivolous, nor made in bad faith.’” Moreover, “The judge said ordering the companies to be reimbursed could deter the state from bringing public health lawsuits in the future.” AP reports:
Attorney General Patrick Lynch called the judge's decision "courageous" and said the companies' request for reimbursement was about more than just costs.
"It was meant to intimidate and silence any attorney or jurisdiction that would dare to demand that they be accountable for the products they put into the marketplace," Lynch said in a written statement.
Sherwin-Williams attorney Charles Moellenberg said the company will appeal the judge's decision to the state Supreme Court.
Wonder how many homes the paint companies could have cleaned up by now with the time and money being spent on this effort. Stay tuned.