Appellate court upholds verdict for pre-1951 homes tainted with lead paint

“Once again, the courts have made it clear that paint companies are not going to get away with poisoning children.”

SAN FRANCISCO (Nov. 14, 2017) — City Attorney Dennis Herrera today released the following statement on the California Court of Appeal for the Sixth Appellate District’s decision in the lead paint case brought by 10 California cities and counties:

“Once again, the courts have made it clear that paint companies are not going to get away with poisoning children.  This is a victory for California consumers. While the court limited the earlier ruling to cover fewer homes, we’re glad that these paint companies will still have to pay to clean up the vast majority of homes in San Francisco that contain this dangerous toxin. This case is about protecting future generations of children from the untold harm created by the dangerous products these companies peddled. The bottom line has not changed. Corporations cannot enrich themselves by selling a product that poisons children. We are going to vigorously protect consumers all across California, particularly our most vulnerable.”

Background

The lawsuit was initially filed in 2000 by then-Santa Clara County Counsel Ann Ravel, with San Francisco joining as a plaintiff the following year. Ten California cities and counties are now part of the litigation.

The cities and counties alleged that defendants ConAgra Grocery Products Company, NL Industries, Inc., and the Sherwin-Williams Company’s aggressive marketing of lead paint, which they knew was highly toxic to young children, has created a public nuisance that threatens the health of California’s children to this day.

In 2013, Honorable Judge James P. Kleinberg of Santa Clara Superior Court issued a $1.15 billion judgment in favor of the cities and counties, ruling that NL Industries, ConAgra and Sherwin-Williams were liable for the harm that they created. 

Today’s ruling upheld the existence of the nuisance as to pre-1951 homes, overturned it as to homes built between 1951-1980, and remanded the case to trial court for further proceedings to limit the $1.15 billion abatement fund to an amount sufficient to address the problems lead paint poses in pre-1951 housing.  That amount will be determined in court.

In San Francisco, over two thirds (68 percent) of homes were built before 1950, which is more than 235,000 residential units. At least 22,000 housing units in San Francisco that are occupied by low and moderate income families are believed to have lead-based paint hazards.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and California’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Branch, lead paint and its degradation into lead-contaminated dust and soil is the primary cause of lead exposure for children who live in older homes. The California Legislature has declared that “childhood lead exposure represents the most significant childhood environmental problem in the state today.” (Health & Saf. Code, § 124125.)

In 2009 alone, 10,875 children in the cities and counties prosecuting the case had been poisoned by lead. In 2012, the CDC released a report, the CDC Response to Advisory Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Recommendations in “Low Level Lead Exposure Harms Children: A Renewed Call of Primary Prevention, ” finding that “no safe blood lead level in children has been identified.” Even at the lowest levels, lead causes permanent neurological damage to children, decreasing IQ and causing other serious health consequences.

The jurisdictions who are plaintiffs in this case are Santa Clara County, Alameda County, the City of Oakland, the City and County of San Francisco, the City of San Diego, Los Angeles County, Monterey County, San Mateo County, Solano County, and Ventura County.  The jurisdictions were represented by the law firms of Cotchett Pitre & McCarthy LLP, Motley Rice LLP, Mary Alexander and Associates, and the Law Offices of Peter Earle, as well as by their own County Counsel and City Attorney’s Offices.

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