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Product Liability Law

Another Big Defense Win in Paint Case

Posted Jun 22, 2007 8:41 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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Now is apparently the time to be a defense lawyer representing a paint manufacturer in big-bucks litigation over injuries allegedly caused by lead-based products manufactured decades ago.

Hard on the heels of recent defense victories in lead paint lawsuits in Missouri and New Jersey, a jury in Milwaukee, Wisc., found resoundingly in favor of a leading national manufacturer on Friday. Although it determined that NL Industries' product did in fact create a public nuisance in city housing stock, it also determined that the manufacturer was not negligent and hence awarded no damages, reports the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

The city had sought more than $50 million in reimbursement for the cost of cleaning up lead paint in poor neighborhoods.

State supreme courts in Missouri and New Jersey earlier this month declined to recognize a similar nuisance cause of action for claimed injuries, decades ago, based on what was then legal use of an ordinary consumer product. Lead paint was later recognized as a health hazard and banned in 1978.

It is decomposing, chipped, flaking or dusty lead paint that is believed to pose a particular danger, especially to children, and this is the responsibility of homeowners, not paint manufacturers, to deal with by keeping buildings in good repair, defense lawyers commonly contend.

"The idea that we were wrong in selling the city this product should never have been brought to court," Don Scott, lead counsel for NL Industries told the newspaper after the verdict. "Now it's time for the city to begin the more important task of going after the landlords who are responsible for this problem."

Richard Lewis, lead lawyer for the city, said municipal officials are disappointed, but have not yet decided whether to appeal.

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