A Collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh

Lead paint makers not liable for causing public nuisance: Rhode Island court

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Rhode Island [official website] Tuesday overturned [decision, PDF] a 2006 jury verdict holding paint manufacturers liable [JURIST report] for contamination caused by lead-based paint. The court rejected state arguments that the paint companies had created a public nuisance, finding that they had no control over how the paint was used:

But however grave the problem of lead poisoning is in Rhode Island, public nuisance law simply does not provide a remedy for this harm. The state has not and cannot allege facts that would fall within the parameters of what would constitute public nuisance under Rhode Island law. As set forth more thoroughly herein, defendants were not in control of any lead pigment at the time the lead caused harm to children in Rhode Island, making defendants unable to abate the alleged nuisance, the standard remedy in a public nuisance action.
The court also ruled that protection against the dangers of lead paint was already available under laws requiring property owners to mitigate the risks of lead contamination. Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch [official website] issued a statement criticizing the ruling [Phoenix report]. AP has more. Providence Journal has local coverage.

The sale of lead paint was banned in 1978 after studies concluded that lead content caused serious health problems to children, and various states have addressed the issue of paint manufacturer liability. In June 2007 the Missouri Supreme Court rejected efforts [JURIST report] by the city of St. Louis to recoup $15 million in lead paint removal costs from paint and pigment manufacturers because the city was unable to connect any specific manufacturer to the paint particular cleanup sites. July 2005, the Wisconsin Supreme Court extended the "risk contribution theory" to lead paint manufacturers and allowed a suit filed against them to proceed [JURIST report] even though plaintiffs could not link their injuries to the products of a specific company.

About Paper Chase

Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

© Copyright JURIST Legal News and Research Services, Inc., 2013.