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R.I. Supremes Overturns Plaintiffs' Lead Paint Verdict

Associated Press reports that the Rhode Island Supreme Court has unanimously overturned a 2006 jury verdict (the only one ever obtained against them) against Sherwin-Williams, NL Industries Inc. and Millennium Holdings, former manufacturers of lead paint.

A jury found all three liable in 2006 for "creating a public nuisance" by manufacturing their then-legal product. The companies would have been required to clean up hundreds of thousands of homes built before 1978 (when lead paint was banned), at a cost of billions.

The high court found that the trial judge should have dismissed the suit since the state had failed to prove that the presence of lead paint was a public nuisance. The requirement of wrongdoing seems finally to have been upheld in the Ocean State.

The manufacturers had also noted that Rhode Island never presented any evidence that their products were used in any Rhode Island home or had even been sold in the state.

Many of us have written about this abuse of tort law. Neither wrongdoing nor causation was ever established here. Lead poisoning is the result of ingestion following poor maintenance, and typically also results from poor childhood supervision. Holding companies liable because they happen to still exist, even though they have not wrongfully and proximately harmed anyone, is a perversion of tort law. I look forward to reading the Rhode Island decision.

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Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Katherine Lazarski
Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.