RI judge: Lead paint companies owed restitution
Thursday January 22, 6:20 pm ET
Rhode Island judge orders state to reimburse 3 lead paint companies for cost of paying experts
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) -- The state of Rhode Island must reimburse more than $242,000 to three companies that succeeded in overturning a jury verdict that could have forced them to spend billions of dollars cleaning up homes contaminated by lead paint, a judge ruled Thursday.
Superior Court Judge Michael Silverstein said Sherwin-Williams Co., Millennium Holdings LLC and NL Industries, Inc., should not have to pay for two public health experts hired as part of the lawsuit now that the case has ended in their favor.
"The entire foundation for the defendants' liability in this case is based on a jury verdict that has been reversed by the Rhode Island Supreme Court," the judge wrote.
The companies also are trying to recover additional money they spent on the nine-year-old court fight, such as for depositions and filing fees, though they have not said how large that bill will be. The state submitted a bill for $1.9 million after the verdict.
Rhode Island was the first state to win a lawsuit against the lead paint industry, when a jury in February 2006 found the three companies liable for creating a public nuisance by manufacturing decades ago the toxic lead pigment used in paint.
After the verdict, the state drafted an ambitious proposal calling for the companies to spend $2.4 billion to clean lead paint contamination from an estimated 240,000 older homes. Two court-appointed public health experts were hired in 2007 to evaluate the cleanup plan.
The money ordered reimbursed to the companies was paid to the experts and their assistants before the state Supreme Court in July overturned the verdict, ending the cleanup before it even began.
The court ruled in its 4-0 decision that the companies no longer had control over their products and could not be held responsible for their health harms. Lead paint was banned from residential use in the U.S. in 1978 after studies showed it could cause reduced intelligence and brain damage in children exposed to it.
"This type of public nuisance litigation is not cost free," Charles Moellenberg Jr., a lawyer for Sherwin-Williams, said Thursday.
"Any state or city that thinks about filing a public nuisance lawsuit of this type should expect to pay litigation expenses if they lose at the end of the day," he added.
Attorney General Patrick Lynch said in a statement that his office was reviewing the "complex" decision and planned to meet with Silverstein about it.
The state has said sovereign immunity protects it from paying for litigation costs, but lawyers for the companies said the state gave up that protection once it filed the lawsuit.
Silverstein did not determine whether the state or the private law firm it hired to help try the lawsuit, Motley Rice LLC, would ultimately be responsible for the experts' costs.
Motley Rice had agreed as part of its contingencyt fee contract with the state to bear "all costs and expenses of prosecuting" the case.
Jack McConnell, a Motley Rice partner who tried the case, declined to comment.
Source: Associated Press
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