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Rhode Island Supreme Court reverses and dismisses public nuisance verdict against former lead paint and pigment manufacturers.

news | July 1, 2008

In a major victory for the former lead paint and pigments industry — and for corporate defendants generally — the Rhode Island Supreme Court on July 1, 2008 reversed a potentially multi-billion dollar jury verdict in favor of the State and against former lead paint and pigment manufacturers for their alleged responsibility in creating a “public nuisance” of deteriorating lead paint in Rhode Island buildings and its consequential adverse health effects.  The Court’s rejection of the State’s public nuisance theory was unanimous.  Click here to view the full opinion.  The Court explained its ruling as follows:

“[W]e conclude that the state has not and cannot allege any set of facts to support its public nuisance claim that would establish that defendants interfered with a public right or that defendants were in control of the lead pigment they, or their predecessors, manufactured at the time it caused harm to Rhode Island children.  In reaching this conclusion, we do not mean to minimize the severity of the harm that thousands of children in Rhode Island have suffered as a result of lead poisoning.  Our hearts go out to those children whose lives forever have been changed by the poisonous presence of lead.  But, however grave the problem of lead poisoning is in Rhode Island, public nuisance law simply does not provide a remedy for this harm.  The state has not and cannot allege facts that would fall within the parameters of what would constitute public nuisance under Rhode Island law.  As set forth more thoroughly herein, defendants were not in control of any lead pigment at the time the lead caused harm to children in Rhode Island, making defendants unable to abate the alleged nuisance, the standard remedy in a public nuisance action.  Furthermore, the General Assembly has recognized defendants’ lack of control and inability to abate the alleged nuisance because it has placed the burden on landlords and property owners to make their properties lead-safe.” 

Firm client, the National Paint & Coatings Association, submitted an amicus brief before the Court in support of the defendants.