The former companies responsible for making the lead-concentrated pigment in lead paint that contaminates much of the nation’s older housing stock were found liable for clean-up costs in the State of Rhode Island in a landmark jury case in February 2006. The jury agreed with the state’s attorneys that the former makers of the lead pigments in paint had created a wide spread “public nuisance” due to the health dangers of their product. The industry knew as early as 1900 that its white lead pigment product was a “deadly cumulative poison” though it continued to be used in paint products for decades thereafter. Old lead-based paint still poisons children even though lead paint sales were banned in 1978.

The Rhode Island trial lasted more than three months during which the jury heard from numerous health experts who described how lead-poisoned children can suffer brain damage, including behavior disorders and cognitive difficulties. After the jury decided that a “public nuisance” was involved with lead paint, they then determined that three of the defendants had caused or significantly contributed to the health problem now posed by deteriorated leaded paint, and that they should help fix the problem.

The State of Rhode Island has not yet estimated how much it will cost to rid that State of lead-based paint hazards. The court is going to decide that issue and will hold hearings on the costs of ridding Rhode Island’s housing stock of lead-based paint hazards.

The defendant manufacturers say they plan to appeal the jury’s ruling, fearing copycat lawsuits in numerous other states where lead hazards continue to threaten children living in older housing stock. In the immediate wake of the stunning Rhode Island decision, an Appeals Court in California reversed a lower court’s dismissal of a similar lawsuit. The lawsuit was brought by the City of San Francisco, surrounding municipalities and Bay Area school districts against most of the same defendants earlier sued in Rhode Island. The California Court of Appeals held that the municipal plaintiffs’ claims for public nuisance, strict liability, negligence, and fraud causes of action can stand for now.

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