Proposed legislation would make paint companies a target in Md.

John O'Brien Mar. 12, 2009, 3:50pm


ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Legal Newsline) - Maryland lawmakers are attempting to enact legislation that would make it easier to sue the former manufacturers of lead paint.

House Bill 1156, introduced by Del. Sam Rosenberg, is aimed at using litigation against companies to fund the abatement of Baltimore homes. It is scheduled to be heard Wednesday.

The bill would set up a lead paint restitution fund into which any amount the State recovers would be placed. Also, in any action brought by the state against a paint company "the causation and the amount of medical assistance expenditures attributable to lead-based paint may be proved or disproved by evidence of statistical analysis, without proof of the causation of the amount of expenditures for a particular program recipient or other individual."

Public nuisance suits against paint companies have not been very successful, most notably one brought by the State of Rhode Island.

Sherwin-Williams, Millennium Holdings and NL Industries were found liable in 2006 for the presence of lead paint as a result of a public nuisance complaint crafted by Motley Rice, hired by the State on a contingency fee.

On July 1, the state Supreme Court unanimously overturned the Superior Court verdict.

Lead paint was outlawed in 1978, and plaintiffs firm Motley Rice convinced former Rhode Island Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse to bring the first state-backed case over the issue in 1999.

The first trial resulted in a mistrial, the second (filed by current Attorney General Patrick Lynch) in a 2006 verdict against the three companies. It was the longest civil trial in state history.

After the mistrial and while Whitehouse prepared to leave office in 2002, Jack McConnell, of the firm's Providence office, contributed $1,000 to Lynch's election efforts.

In Lynch's next campaign, McConnell gave him $2,000. In between, in Lynch's non-election year of 2004, McConnell still gave him $2,000.

Several similar suits brought by cities in Ohio were dismissed, and new Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray voluntarily dismissed the State's recently.

Other suits have failed in Wisconsin, Missouri, Ohio and New Jersey.

An editorial in the D.C. Examiner noted that similar legislation failed in Maryland's General Assembly last year. Rosenberg, a Democrat, is a graduate of Columbia University's law school.

"Surely Rosenberg knows that once the principle is out there, it will be applied across the board, and not just in Maryland," columnist Marta Mossburg wrote.

"Maybe that's why the Maryland Trial Lawyers Association has donated over $350,000 to members of the General Assembly since 1999, according to the state board of elections.

"That figure does not include the hundreds of thousands donated by law firms and individual lawyers during that time period to members of the General Assembly and to those on the Judiciary Committee where Rosenberg is vice chairman."

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