Tort Law

Setbacks in Lead Paint Suits

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Lead paint litigation looked promising when a Rhode Island jury last year found paint companies liable for creating a public nuisance.

Since then, a series of rulings shielding paint manufacturers have changed that outlook, the National Law Journal reports.

The Rhode Island action, brought by the state’s attorney general, was the first lead paint suit filed on behalf of a government entity seeking compensation for public health problems. Following Rhode Island’s lead, dozens of public nuisance suits have been filed by state and local governments seeking to recover the costs of removing lead paint.

But paint litigation suffered two big setbacks in June. The first was a New Jersey Supreme Court ruling for defendants that said plaintiffs were trying to stretch public nuisance theory to the point of strict liability. The second was a Missouri Supreme Court decision refusing to allow the city of St. Louis to sue lead paint makers for public nuisance using a market-share theory.

This month, the Ohio Supreme Court upheld a law limiting damages in public nuisance cases, a ruling likely to affect more than a half-dozen pending lead-paint suits.

James Copland, director of the conservative Center for Legal Policy at the Manhattan Institute, told the legal newspaper that the decisions could prove persuasive when the Rhode Island Supreme Court considers an appeal of last year’s verdict for plaintiffs.

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