The US Supreme Court declined Monday to hear an appeal by two paint manufacturers (Sherwin-Williams Co. and NL Industries, Inc.) seeking to limit their liability for lead poisoning.
The paint manufacturers filed their appeal in July asking the court to decide whether the First Amendment allows the state of California to file tort actions against these companies. Mondays’s Supreme Court denial allows the lower court decision to stand that plaintiffs may sue for damages incurred through lead poisoning.
In 2014 the Santa Clara County Superior Court ordered the companies to pay $1.15 billion in damages to clients harmed by lead poisoning. “[I]t remains present in millions of homes in California and continues to poison tens of thousands of California children each year,” reads the holding. The involved companies subsequently appealed the case to the Supreme Court.
In an August Amicus Curae brief supporting the companies involved, the US Chamber of Commerce claimed that, “just in the last twelve months, in federal courts alone, at least 80 new public nuisance cases of this sort have been filed by states and other government entities against American businesses, all seeking to impose sweeping liability.” Opponents of the ruling believe that this case could lead to corporate liability for issues like gun violence and the opioid crisis.
But many agree that these companies must be held liable. “For decades, the Manufacturers were well aware that their products disproportionately harmed … children,” the Santa Clara opinion reads. “yet they continued to produce lead paint and promote it for use in homes.”
The companies may now be held liable for millions of dollars of damages as a result of decades-old lead poisoning.