Sherwin-Williams Company and two other defendants have been ordered by a California superior court judge to pay $1.1 billion to replace or contain lead paint, according to Bloomberg News.
The public-nuisance lawsuit was brought by ten California cities and counties, including San Diego, San Francisco, and Los Angeles County. The ruling by Judge James Kleinberg in San Jose, California, on December 16 followed a five-week non-jury trial.
Two other defendants, NL Industries and ConAgra Grocery Products, share in the penalty. But claims against Atlantic Richfield and DuPont were dismissed.
Joe Cotchett, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, argued that lead paint continues to poison thousands of children who live in houses built before 1978, the year the federal government banned lead paint. The defendants had argued that other sources of lead contributed to the problem, but Kleinberg was not persuaded.
“Consistent with their arguments throughout the trial the defendants rely on statistics and percentages,” Kleinberg wrote, according to the Bloomberg report. “When translated into the lives of children that is not a persuasive position. The court is convinced there are thousands of California children in the jurisdictions whose lives can be improved, if not saved through a lead abatement plan.”
A challenge to the ruling is expected
A spokeswoman for the defendants said the companies would file objections with the trial judge, and would pursue other means of reversing the decision if the objections aren’t accepted. Bonnie J. Campbell said in a statement that the court’s decision penalized companies “for truthful advertising of lawful products” while rewarding “scofflaw landlords” who don’t maintain painted surfaces properly, Bloomberg reported.
ConAgra Grocery became involved when it assumed the liabilities of W.P. Fuller & Company in a series of mergers, Bloomberg said, and the company said it would appeal. “ConAgra Foods was never even in the paint business,” a ConAgra spokesman told Bloomberg. “As a food maker who employs thousands of people in California, we believe this case is an unfortunate example of extreme overreach.”
The ruling brought to an end a string of legal victories for paint manufacturers in similar suits in seven other states, Bloomberg reported. The judgment, if not reversed, will affect millions of California homes.
“We’re extremely excited that there’s going to be abatement of lead in these homes and improve the health of the children,” Nancy Fineman, another lawyer for the plaintiffs said in an interview with Bloomberg. “It’s going to have a tremendous impact for society, and it’s time that these defendants who caused this problem help the government and property owners and families abate the nuisance.”