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by Wendy Stackhouse ยท January 06, 2014

California Judge: Unusual Ruling in Lead Paint Case

We've been covering the lead paint lawsuits in California for a while now. In December, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge James Kleinberg ruled against paint manufacturers and in favor of Santa Clara, Alameda, Los Angeles, Monterey, San Mateo, Solano and Ventura counties, and the cities of Oakland, San Diego and San Francisco. He also ordered the paint makers to pay $1.1 billion to fund lead paint removal in approximately 5 million California homes.

But Judge Kleinberg's ruling was a very unusual one, not just for the amount of the fines, but for the ruling itself. Paint companies have in the past been very successful in fighting lawsuits concerning lead poisoning from lead paint used in homes.

Over the last 25 years, as many as 50 lawsuits have been brought against paint manufacturers for lead poisoning and only one was ever decided in favor of the Plaintiffs--in Rhode Island. That decision was later reversed on appeal.

Why did those lawsuits fail where this one succeeded? Past suits were dismissed because although lead paint was present in a home, which layer of paint contributed to the lead poisoning could not be determined. They also failed when judges ruled that the cases could only be brought by individuals who had suffered direct harm, not by governments claiming lead paint to be a "public nuisance."

Lead paint makers have argued that they did not sell a harmful product deliberately, so they should not be liable, claiming that they did not know the lead in paint was dangerous when they were selling it.

What was the difference in the latest case? Paul Elias of the Associated Press reports:

"'In the 1920s, scientists from the Paint Manufacturers Association reported that lead paint used on the interiors of homes would deteriorate, and that lead dust resulting from this deterioration would poison children and cause serious injury,' the judge wrote in his 110-page decision. 'It was accepted by the medical and scientific community before the 1950s, as reflected in literature from as early as 1894, that lead paint was a significant cause of childhood lead poisoning.'" Nanaimo Daily News

At Alliance Environmental Group, we will continue to watch as the appeal process for this ruling progresses through the courts, but we know that lead paint is still dangerous, still out there, still poisoning babies and children and even more harmful than previously believed. We are ready and eager to participate in making California homes healthy and safe.

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