Rhode Island's top court has overturned a 2006 jury verdict against three lead paint manufacturers, which had held the companies liable for lead paint-related health problems and could have forced them to pay billions of dollars to clean up lead paint contamination throughout the state.
Today's Rhode Island Supreme Court decision overruled a jury's finding that the manufacturers -- including Sherwin-Williams, NL Industries Inc., and Millenium Holdings -- were liable for failing to disclose the health risks posed by lead paint. In today's ruling, the state's top court held that the legal theory relied upon by the state in the 2006 case -- known as "public nuisance" law -- could not provide a remedy for the harm allegedly caused by lead paint. The court ruled that Rhode Island's Attorney General "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." Reuters reports that today's decision allows the companies to avoid paying as much as $2.4 billion in clean-up costs, and "could influence court decisions in other states, counties and cities where lead-poisoning lawsuits are pending."