R.I. jury finds former lead paint makers liable

by Walter Olson on February 23, 2006

“A Rhode Island jury today found Sherwin-Williams Co. and two other paintmakers guilty of creating a ‘public nuisance’ by manufacturing lead paint after it was found to be dangerous.” If upheld, the verdict will force the companies to contribute millions toward abatement of existing paint; a judge will also consider demands for punitive damages. The ruling, the first of its kind, is also expected to encourage the filing of more suits against the industry; the cities of Chicago and Milwaukee are among those with suits in progress. (Maya R. Payne, “Jury finds against three paintmakers”, Crain’s Cleveland Business, Feb. 22; AP/Boston Globe; Reuters). Blogger Jane Genova has been covering the three-month trial from the scene.

The verdict is an unfortunate confirmation that the “tobacco model” of mass tort litigation remains alive and well. In particular, contingency-fee private counsel have once again managed to 1) dream up a novel idea for litigation based on the idea that some category of public expenditure is really blameable on long-ago sales of a product; 2) sell the idea of suing to public officials who agree to front the action, and who thus provide (along with advocacy groups) a suitably public face for the lawsuit; and 3) manage to get liability attributed retroactively to businesses whose actions decades ago were plainly lawful under the standards of that time. In the Rhode Island case, in particular, the outcome represents the culmination of years of careful groundwork by South Carolina-based asbestos/tobacco powerhouse plaintiff’s firm Motley Rice (earlier Ness Motley), which some years embarked on a strategy of making itself a behind-the-scenes kingmaker in Rhode Island — one of America’s most politically insider-ish, as well as smallest, states. For details on how the Motley firm quickly established itself the number one donor in Rhode Island politics, with special generosity toward officials who could be helpful to its idea for a lead paint suit, see Jun. 7, 2001.

For more coverage of the Rhode Island suit, see Jun. 8-10, 2001; Jul. 2, Nov. 1 and Nov. 16, 2005; and various other entries.

{ 3 comments }

1 TC 02.23.06 at 4:53 am

So are we to be surprised? There is not a provider of either service or substance in this nation that will not be effected by such! Motel 6 rooms will be $200 in the middle of nowhere, just to pay the insurance!

As long as we allow attorneys to make the laws, argue the laws and then even judge the laws!

Face it, this nation has allowed itself to be led into a position that will cause it’s failure as a society!

If you are an attorney and running for a public office beyond county or state attorney or such. BAG your BAR the day you file for such.

2 Coyote Blog 02.27.06 at 12:49 pm

Horrible Verdict

In what we may look back on as one of the worst and most destructive jury verdicts of the decade, three paint makers were found guilty of selling lead paint back when it was, well, legal:A Rhode Island jury today

3 Overlawyered 03.05.06 at 3:56 pm

Calif. court reinstates counties’ lead-paint suit

Close on the heels of the verdict in the Rhode Island paint retrial (Feb. 23; PoL Feb. 17) comes more bad news for companies that once manufactured lead paint: an appeals court has reinstated the…

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