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Plaintiffs win in Calif. lead paint case could threaten business, hit homeowners hard


SAN JOSE, Calif. (Legal Newsline) – From Timothy Hardy’s perspective, all companies should be worried if a California judge finds that old, lead-based paint in private homes constitutes a public nuisance.

He contends that 10 of the state’s largest cities and counties are using today’s science to characterize the dangers of lead-based paint. However, he says, that science has changed dramatically since the companies actually manufactured or sold the paint.

“I do believe that industry in general should be concerned if we were to lose on the hindsight issue,” said Hardy, who represents NL Industries Inc., a defendant in the case. “It is unfair and illegal to hold companies to what’s known about today’s science when they sold the product many, many decades ago.”

In The People of California v. Atlantic Richfield Co., et.al., the plaintiffs – Santa Clara County, San Francisco City, Alameda County, Los Angeles County, Monterey County, Oakland City, San Diego City, San Mateo County, Solano County and Ventura County – also asked Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge James Kleinberg to order five paint manufacturers to pay $1.2 billion to abate lead-based paint in homes built before 1978.

In addition to NL Industries, the defendants are The Sherwin-Williams Co., ConAgra Grocery Products, DuPont and Atlantic Richfield Co.

Like Hardy, many legal and business advocates argue that a ruling against these companies will not only threaten their bottom line and their industry, but also adversely affect the entire business community.

James Copland, the director of the Manhattan Institute’s Center for Legal Policy, points out that in the short term, defendants could face billions of dollars in lead-based paint abatement costs. They could also face higher litigation costs if they decide to appeal a decision against them.  Read Sorce