Judge upholds $7M verdict in lead paint case

John O'Brien Nov. 2, 2009, 12:21pm


FAYETTE, Miss. (Legal Newsline) - A Mississippi judge has denied post-trial motions filed in the $7 million case of a former high school sports star who claims he was poisoned by lead paint manufactured by Sherwin-Williams.

Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Lamar Pickard on Oct. 19 denied the company's motions for a new trial and judgment notwithstanding the verdict, leaving it up to the state Supreme Court to render a final decision in the closely watched case.

"The Sherwin-Williams Company respectfully disagrees with the Court's ruling today and will appeal the jury's verdict to the Mississippi Supreme Court," said Charles Moellenberg of Jones Day, which is representing Sherwin-Williams.

"The evidence presented at trial showed that it was impossible to have either bought or applied Sherwin-Williams' lead-containing residential paint to this house after 1978. The company had stopped manufacturing any residential paints with lead ingredients by the end of 1972."

Gaines played wide receiver for Jefferson County High School's football team last year and helped the Tigers reach the Class AAA playoffs. He said he was planning on playing at Southwest Mississippi Community College this year on a scholarship.

He also played for the school's basketball team and was described in a Natchez Democrat article by his coach as "our leader" after scoring 20 points in an early season tournament game.

At the trial, his mother, Shermeker Pollard, said that her son "can't go to college." Gaines' attorneys even produced witnesses that said his deficits would prevent him from attending, Sherwin-Williams' motion says.

Pollard said she knows he's not going to make it in college, and the damages calculation derived from those statements put millions of dollars into the award, the company said.

"Post-verdict statements, however, are diametrically opposed to the testimony proffered at trial," the company wrote. "In a June 29 posting on her MySpace Web site, Plaintif's mother... indicated that Plaintiff is definitely going to college.

"After the verdict, Ms. Pollard has talked about not having to work anymore, shopping until she drops and finding plans for her large new house."

The company says Gaines' enrollment in college undermines the testimony that he can't go to college.

Sherwin-Williams won summary judgment in the case years ago, but the state Supreme Court overturned the decision and reinstated the case.

It was a rare loss for the paint industry, which has collected victories in Rhode Island, Missouri, Wisconsin and New Jersey and is battling the contingent fee agreements government entities enter into with private law firms in California.

"It is important to note that not one fully adjudicated case has held former manufacturers responsible," Moellenberg said. "Throughout its history, Sherwin-Williams has been an industry leader in removing lead ingredients from paints and taking other steps to protect children from poorly maintained paint."

From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at jobrienwv@gmail.com.

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