Paint companies respond to Lynch's lead plan

John O'Brien Sep. 20, 2007, 1:53pm

PROVIDENCE, R.I. - Counsel for the three Rhode Island lead paint defendants recently said the companies will wait until their appeal to the state's Supreme Court is heard before going forward with the State's $2.4 billion lead abatement plan.

Former Iowa Attorney General Bonnie Campbell, spokesperson for the companies that were found liable for creating a public nuisance by a Superior Court jury, denounced the plan, which was crafted by state Attorney General Patrick Lynch.

"The State proposes to conduct an astonishingly expensive and intrusive public works experiment in the homes of hundreds of thousands of Rhode Island residents," Campbell said.

"The State is calling for forced inspections and lead paint abatement of all homes built before 1980 no matter how well-kept a home is, and even if that home has no lead hazards of small children residing there. The plan rewards landlords who have repeatedly flouted Rhode Island law by failing to maintain their properties."

Rhode Island is the only state to have successfully litigated against paint companies over lead paint. Plaintiffs firm Motley Rice introduced to the State the idea of using a public nuisance claim to work around the defenses of a products liability case, like the now-tolled statute of limitations.

Sherwin-Williams, NL Industries and Millennium Holdings are the companies found liable in Rhode Island.

Paint companies stopped manufacturing lead-based paint in 1978 when it was outlawed. Similar suits have failed in the supreme courts of New Jersey, Wisconsin and Missouri. Ohio's Supreme Court also recently ruled the veto of a tort reform law invalid, enforcing a measure that does not allow public nuisance claims in lead paint issues.

Lynch said his abatement plan addresses problems on a "worst first" priority basis and is "designed to respect the needs of both property owners and occupants."

The proposal is completely at odds with the State's own health department policies and guidelines," Campbell said. "Rhode Island health statistics show that the number of children with elevated blood lead levels is continuing to decline dramatically. The risks today are concentrated in known small pockets of poorly maintained housing.

"The Attorney General has the power under current state laws to require these property owners to keep their property free of lead hazards at nominal cost and with no disruption to the public at large.

This case poses many significant legal issues and is on appeal to the Rhode Island Supreme Court. No abatement process will go forward until that appeals process is complete. The defendants expect the Rhode Island Supreme Court will recognize the errors at trial and dismiss this case."

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