Huge breaking story: Jury holds 3 ex-makers of lead paint liable

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Wed, 02/22/2006 - 17:36.

Huge news in Rhode Island today - "Jury holds 3 ex-makers of lead paint liable" - will have major impacts in Cleveland. Cleveland is one year into a major regional initiative to eradicate lead poisoning in Greater Cleveland, where elevated blood level rates are some of the highest in the country, and it is very important that the paint companies are part of the solutions being developed. Rhode Island is where the battle against lead poisoning has proceeded the furthest in court, and now a jury has ruled against three paint companies, including our home-town Sherwin-Williams. Imagine some possible next steps... lead goes the way of asbestos and the old paint companies go bankrupt, and so goes away Sherwin-Williams and all its jobs in the region, with the assets going to our next Mittal... yet the bankruptcy settlement and asset sales help pay to eradicate lead poisoning here so our next generations are not mentally impaired and are able to contribute to the economy. What do the people of NEO rally around - saving jobs or saving minds... I can see the fanatical lines being drawn now. Is that the best we can do? Or can lead be viewed as a new frontier for open, responsible collaboration across our community (as is already happening in Greater Cleveland) AND with one of the biggest players on the industry - our own Sherwin-Williams - allowing us to respond here to our dirty laundry being aired in the RI courts, and in the process making Sherwin-Williams a stronger corporate citizen, in a safer, healthier, smarter community more worth living in. Read the complete story, from the Providence Journal.

Jury holds 3 ex-makers of lead paint liable (free registration required)
02:23 PM EST on Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Providence Journal Staff and wire reports

PROVIDENCE -- A jury has decided that three former makers of lead paint created a public nuisance that has poisoned thousands of Rhode Island children, and continues to do so.

In a highly anticipated verdict announced shortly before noon today, the three companies found responsible are Sherwin-Williams, N-L Industries and Millennium Holdings.

The jury found that one of the four companies named in the landmark suit brought by the state -- Atlantic Richfield -- was not responsible.

The verdict means the companies that once made lead paint and pigment could be held responsible for millions of dollars in clean-up and mitigation costs -- though the state never put a dollar value on its lawsuit.

The jury's decision is also important because it could affect similar lawsuits in other states.

The sale of lead paint was banned in 1978 in the United States, after studies showed that it can cause serious health problems in children. But in Rhode Island, which has an old housing stock, lead paint still exists in many homes.

In 1999, Rhode Island became the first state to sue the lead paint industry.

"This is sweet. I am overjoyed," said the state's former attorney general, Sheldon Whitehouse, who brought the original lawsuit that ended with a hung jury in 2002.

Whitehouse, a candidate for Congress, said today's verdict was especially dramatic because the jury first announced the "not responsible" finding for Atlantic Richfield.

Bonnie Campbell, a spokeswoman for the companies and a former attorney general of Iowa, said, "This is but one step in a lengthy process and there are a number of issues still to be decided by the court."

Although the jury said that the three other companies must be held responsible for abatement -- or repairing damages -- they did not award compensatory damages.

Because of that, Superior Court Judge Michael Silverstein ordered lawyers to report back to court Monday with their arguments on whether punitive damages should be awarded.

If Silverstein decides they should, the jury will return Tuesday to begin deliberating what those damages should be.

The case went to the six-person jury Monday, Feb. 13, after 15 weeks of trial.

The state contended that the four companies created a public nuisance by marketing the lead-paint pigments that helped poison more than 37,000 Rhode Island children during the last 11 years.

The state also argued the paints remain on more than 240,000 houses and threaten future harm as they deteriorate.

Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch has estimated abatement could cost billions of dollars.

The verdicts had an immediate impact on Wall Street. Sherwin Williams' share price dropped more than 15 percent to $44.47 as of about 1:30 p.m. NL Industries fell 5 percent to $13.64.

The 2002 trial ended in a hung jury after four days of deliberations.

State's lawyers presented historians, doctors and contractors to try to persuade jurors that the companies knew about the hazards and tried to hide them. The paint makers presented no witnesses.

In closing arguments, company lawyers insisted that the state didn't prove a case against any of them. They said the state failed to convincingly place any of their paints on Rhode Island buildings and that there is no public nuisance in Rhode Island because childhood blood-lead levels have declined so dramatically.

In closing arguments, defendants argued that the entire time they sold lead-based paints it was legal, but Judge Silverstein swept aside that defense.

"The fact that the conduct which caused the nuisance is lawful, does not preclude liability," Silverstein said.

A large part of the state's evidence focused on an industry group called the Lead Industries Association that heavily promoted the use of lead paint while campaigning to cover up reports of lead-poisoned children.

Silverstein reinforced a previous ruling he made that favored the defendants by telling the jury that "mere membership in a trade association is not sufficient to impose liability on any defendant."

-- With reports from the Associated Press and Journal staff writers Paul Edward Parker and Peter B. Lord

This is an affair similar to

This is an affair similar to the asbestos industry ...which industry knew for centuries - since Roman times -  that asbestos was deadly and yet countinued its use.  Lead defendant Atlantic Richfield (one of the 4 defendants) was not found guilty however, and I don't know why the jury decided in their favor.  Any one know the details?

 

There will be appeals.

Just because the jury found that the defendants created a public nuisance doesn't mean that the companies continued to produce lead paint with wanton abondon. 

Unfortunately, like asbestos, lead paint is an excellent product in relation to what its main job is - but is deadly to us humans.

Sherwan Williams stock dropped 20 % on the news.

Sherwin Williams stock dropped 20 % on the news

It would be so easy for Sherwin Williams to say they want to be the world's best paint company, and that means taking responsibility for defects in past products, while developing better products. As ZM points out, Sherwin Williams has covered the Earth with lead paint, so the clean-up costs are astronomical. You could liquidate Sherwin Williams and the other old  paint companies found guilty and it wouldn't solve the problem, but if those companies put their marketing and public relations clout behind lead eradication then they would be viewed as an albeit late to the table good corporate citizen, we would address lead much more quickly and effectively, and Sherwin Williams and the other paint companies would sell lots and lots of paint, which ZM points out could be from their "Harmony line of zero voc zero silica paints".... or even "organic milk paint".

 

Now we'll really see how one of NEO's major corporate citizens (and the corporate support, media and spin networks) operate under major international attention and mounting pressure - this one won't be going away any time soon. 

Cover The Earth

Isnt that their logo?  When I see corporate travelers from sherwin williams proudly displaying their paint can covereing the globe as it dumps its products upon our biospehere... I always find it ironic.  

 

I am usually hopping a plane to go and prevent such products from being released ala Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasures Planning 40 CFR 112, or Facility Response Plans.

 

 

Its time for a new logo..  + I dont see it on their harmony line of zero voc zero silica paints.... which I really love (next to organic milk paint).

Verdict raises risk for paint companies

From today's PD:  

 

Verdict raises risk for paint companies - Lead-hazard case in Rhode Island could prove pivotal

Sunday, April 02, 2006 - Peter Krouse - Plain Dealer Reporter

Kevin Destefanis wasn't going easily.

It would take a lot of convincing before the 37-year-old mail clerk would side with the state in the landmark Rhode Island lead-paint case. He still hears fellow juror Mary McGowan's voice in his sleep.

"If it wasn't there," the retired 69-year-old former bookkeeper would say of the lead paint, "we wouldn't have this problem."

Destefanis was one of two staunch holdouts on the six-person jury who eventually came around. Originally, he wanted to let the paint-company defendants off the hook. He wanted to blame slumlords for the dangers of lead paint in Rhode Island homes, not the firms that prosecutors claim made the pigment decades ago.

When the jury first voted, four of the six felt the way he did.

But when the jurors filed back into the Providence courtroom Feb. 22 with verdict in hand - nine days after deliberations had begun - they had sided unanimously with the state.

The swing in sentiment came about through grueling deliberations that required strict adherence to what jurors called narrow instructions from the judge. In other words, they said, they had no choice.

"I kind of feel like my hands were tied a little bit," Destefanis said.

The result was the first verdict in a lead paint case to go against the paint industry, including Sherwin-Williams Co. of Cleveland, in nearly 20 years of litigation across the country.

The fallout from the Rhode Island verdict could be enormous.... story continues on PD website here