NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

...And Now Lead Paint Suits

October 13, 1999

Goaded by a law firm that reaped hundreds of millions of dollars from state lawsuits against tobacco companies, Rhode Island is suing eight paint manufacturers who years ago used lead in their products.

The South Carolina-based law firm of Ness, Motley, Loadholt, Richardson & Poole has also approached four states and three major cities to explore filing similar suits on their behalf. This suggests the start of a new wave of actions against paint companies.

  • The Rhode Island suit seeks to recover public costs of providing health care and special education to children supposedly harmed by lead poisoning -- as well as requiring the industry to strip all lead paint from public and private buildings accessible to children in the state.
  • The law firm is financing Rhode Island's suit in return for a 17 percent share of any recovery it wins for the state.
  • The suit alleges that eight companies that either made lead paint, or acquired companies that did, conspired to promote their products while failing to disclose the danger it posed to children.
  • Yet paint makers stopped using lead in interior paints in the 1950s -- while the federal government banned lead in paint in 1978.

Lead Industries Association Inc., the industry's trade association which was also named in the suit, claims that similar conspiracy charges have been rejected by courts in the past -- most notably in a 1997 decision in Maryland that found the hazards of lead paint had been widely publicized with warning labels and industry campaigns to discourage its use inside homes.

Similar suits against paint makers are in the works in Baltimore, Cleveland, New York and Buffalo, N.Y.

Source: Milo Geyelin, "Former Makers of Lead Paint Are Sued by Rhode Island for Child Health Costs," Wall Street Journal, October 13, 1999.


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