Annual lead paint report released

By John O'Brien | Dec 21, 2009

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - The companies involved in lead paint litigation have published their annual review of the legal battles they are facing.

The companies, which also sponsor the Web site leadlawsuits.com, say the only public nuisance claim left against them is in California, where the state Supreme Court will determine the validity of the contingency fee agreement several county and city governments entered into with private counsel.

Plaintiffs firm Motley Rice used the public nuisance claim because of its lack of a statute of limitations. Lead paint was outlawed in 1978.

"Public nuisance cases filed in seven jurisdictions - Ohio, Rhode Island, Missouri, New Jersey, Illinois, New York and Wisconsin - have all been either rejected by courts or by a jury, or voluntarily dismissed," the report says.

The companies are arguing that contingency fee agreements should not be allowed because the government agency becomes motivated by a payday, not justice.

The companies also say they are the wrong targets for any lead poisoning claims, and that litigation is counter-productive in the abatement of lead paint.

"Every federal, state and local law on the books puts the obligation on landlords to prevent or abate lead-based paint hazards," the report says.

"As part of the continuing emphasis on good housing maintenance, the $787 billion economic stimulus package included $100 million for the reduction of lead hazards, $2 billion for assistance to homeowners of Section 8 Housing, and $1 billion for public housing renovation."

Other developments this year included:

-A year after it overturned a verdict in favor of Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch and Motley Rice, the state Supreme Court ruled the defendants should be reimbursed for fees paid to court-appointed special masters who worked on an abatement plan;

-The Wisconsin Supreme Court rejected a defective design claim and a public nuisance claim;

-The Cook County Circuit Court in Illinois, a jurisdiction recently termed a "Judicial Hellhole" by the American Tort Reform Foundation, certified a class of individuals who have had to pay for blood-lead testing in high-risk areas; and

-A jury in Jefferson County Circuit Court in Mississippi awarded $7 million to a high-school student who sued Sherwin-Williams.

Sherwin-Williams is appealing that decision to the state Supreme Court.

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

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