In the 1980’s and 1990’s, many California residents began to discover that the paint on their walls had lead in them. The discovery of lead paint in various apartment buildings and homes resulted in the initiation of several lawsuits against paint and lead manufacturers. In addition, several renters and building owners sued contracting firms and mobile home manufacturers who had used the contaminated paint. Those contractors and other defendants filed a cross-complaint against the paint manufacturers that supplied those contractors (a cross-complaint is when a defendant sues a third party because the original defendant believes that the third party is responsible for the injury suffered by the plaintiff). As a greater number of people throughout California began to also discover lead in the paint on the walls of their homes, state and local governments initiated a lawsuit of their own.
By 2000, residents in ten different counties in California had discovered that the walls of their homes also contained lead paint. That year, the county of Santa Clara, as well as ten other counties, including San Francisco and Los Angeles, filed a lawsuit against Atlantic Richfield Company, NL Industries, Conagra Grocery Products Company and Sherwin-Williams Company and some others. In 2007, the State of California joined the plaintiffs in their suit. The state and counties claimed that the failure to remove lead paint from these homes constitutes a public nuisance.
On December 16, 2013, Judge Robert Kleinberg of the Santa Clara Superior Court issued a tentative decision awarding the plaintiffs (the State of California and ten counties) $1.15 billion in damages. The $1.15 billion will be paid into the state’s lead abatement program. In his decision, Judge Kleinberg dismissed the claims against two of the defendants – Du Pont and Atlantic Ridgefield Company.
People have found this ruling to be controversial for two reasons: (1) lead paint nuisance claims in seven other states have voluntarily dismissed or rejected and (2) this ruling could affect home prices. In seven jurisdictions, on the east coast, these claims have not met any success. Because the injury occurs decades after the installation of the lead paint, most jurisdictions, like the Rhode Island Supreme Court, have ruled that these claims should be dismissed at the pleading stage unless the plaintiffs can allege that the lead paint is in the defendant’s control at the time of their injury. Judge Kleinberg rejected that reasoning. He has determined that defendant’s had constructive knowledge of the harms of lead paint prior to installation. On that basis, he found that these companies are liable for a public nuisance.corporations filed objections to the court’s ruling on December 31, 2013. Sherwin-Williams Company and other defendants have objected to the court’s tentative ruling because they claimed that there were other sources of lead in these communities. The defendants asserted throughout the trial that they cannot be found to be a public nuisance since there are other sources of lead in those counties. Judge Kleinberg rejected that reasoning in his ruling. His ruling states that since lead paint is the “primary cause of lead poisoning for children in jurisdictions who live in pre-1978 housing,” it is a public nuisance even if there are other sources of lead in the community. On January 7, 2014, Judge Kleinberg made his tentative decision the court’s official ruling in his Statement of Decision. Several defendants have stated that they will file motions for a new trial and if that is unsucessful they will appeal.
The size of the award as well as the subject matter of the case has made some experts and trade associations believe that this decision could hurt the housing market. Some who disagree with Judge Kleinberg’s ruling fear that the precedent set in this case could lead to home prices for pre-1978 homes to fall. If Judge Kleinberg’s opinion is upheld on appeal, then it could lead to pre-1978 homes to drop in value because of buyers fear of lead paint and the legal trouble that might involve. In addition, Judge Kleinberg has ordered that $400 million of the $1.1 billion award to pay for inspectors of properties that potentially have lead paint. Some homeowners have complained that this decision will need to a great disruption as hundreds or thousands of residents will have vacate and relocate until their homes are determined to be safe by the inspectors.
How this case will progress on appeal may play a significant role in personal injury law and home values. Please come back to LA Jewish Los Angeles Personal Injury Lawyer as we discuss this case and other legal phenomenon. For more information about this case and other lead paint class action suits, please visit Legal Newsline and read the articles by Jessica Karmasek, Chris Dickerson and Amanda Robert.
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