R.I. Jury Holds Lead Paint Makers Liable for Child Poisoning

February 22, 2006

A Rhode Island Superior Court jury has found three former lead paint manufacturers responsible for poisoning children in a lawsuit that could cost the manufacturers millions of dollars in damages.

The lawsuit was the first brought by a state seeking to hold paint makers liable and could invite more lawsuits against paint makers.

The companies found liable were Sherwin-Williams Co., NL Industries Inc. and Millennium Holdings LLC. A fourth defendant, Atlantic Richfield, was not found responsible.

Damages have yet to be decided. Superior Court Judge Michael Silverstein will hear arguments on Monday.

Paint companies unsuccessfully argued that property owners, not paint firms, should be held accountable for the paint chipping that exposes children to lead.

State Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch hailed the state’s victory. “This is great news for the children, the taxpayers, and the short- and long-term public health of the state of Rhode Island. For the jury to have unanimously agreed that we met our burden, and proved our case, is enormously gratifying. Much more important, though, it means that the state can better fulfill its most important function, protecting its citizens-especially its most vulnerable citizens, children-from harm.”

Remedies could range from ordering paint manufacturers to recoat lead paint areas with a protective coat to total removal and a fresh repainting, which is costly.

Studies have shown that lead paint causes health problems in children. It was banned by the federal government in 1978.

Cleveland-based Sherwin-Williams issued a statement pointing out that the jury verdict is part of a long legal process. “We continue to believe that the facts and the law are on our side. The court still has to rule on various remaining issues before the next steps in the legal process can be determined. Additional court proceedings will be held next week. Sherwin-Williams will continue to vigorously defend itself,” the company said.

Millennium Holdings LLC’s reaction was similar: “This is just one step in a lengthy process. A variety of issues remain to be decided by the courts. Because the jury has not been discharged in this matter, we are restricted in making extensive comment regarding the verdict. Millennium Holdings will continue to vigorously defend itself.”

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