Lead Paint Companies Hit With Billion Dollar Judgment in California Public Nuisance Case

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In a decision with potentially far-reaching impacts, a California state court has ordered three major paint companies to pay $1.15 billion to clean up lead paint in homes throughout California. People v. Atlantic Richfield Co., Santa Clara Superior Court Case No. 1-00-CV-788657.

The case first arose 13 years ago when Santa Clara County filed a lawsuit in California Superior Court against five of the largest manufacturers and sellers of lead pigment and lead paint. Among other causes of action, the county claimed that the paint companies had created a “public nuisance” by making and selling dangerous lead paint that wound up in millions of California homes. The first court to hear the case dismissed the claims, but the California Court of Appeal reversed in 2006, and found that the public nuisance cause of action could go forward. County of Santa Clara v. Atl. Richfield Co., 137 Cal. App. 4th 292 (2006). The case eventually returned to Santa Clara County Superior Court for trial in the summer of 2013. By that time, nine more cities and counties had joined the suit, including Los Angeles County and the City of San Francisco. After a bench trial that lasted over a month, Judge James P. Kleinberg ordered three of the defendants (Sherwin-Williams, ConAgra and NL Industries) to pay a total of $1.15 billion into an abatement fund to pay for lead paint investigation and removal programs in homes throughout the various cities and counties.

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