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SCOTUS Declining Lead Paint Ruling Could Open the Door to Broad Corporate Liability


On October 15, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of a lower court’s ruling against paint manufacturers which orders them to pay more than $400 million for lead paint inspection and removal in a number of homes in the U.S. Experts predict that the Court declining to hear the case could set precedent for a number of future corporate liability lawsuits, potentially bolstering a number of public nuisance-based cases specifically, including those linked to climate change, gun violence, the opioid epidemic, product liability, and similar issues, as we discuss below.

Claims against Oil, Gas, & Paint Industries

Just within the last year, at least 80 of these types of cases have been filed by government entities against American businesses, alleging a number of theories of corporate liability, including cases brought against gas and oil companies in connection with global warming. Both the lead paint and fossil fuel cases allege that these industries were aware that their products could inflict serious damage, but they continued to promote them anyway.

The U.S. government outlawed the use of lead-based paints in 1978, however, many homes built before 1978 have not had the lead paint removed. Still, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, if the paint is in good shape, this isn’t usually a problem; only if the paint is deteriorating can lead paint be hazardous and pose behavioral and learning problems for children, as well as a number of health issues for pregnant women.

In the lead paint case, the Superior Court Judge originally ordered the companies to pay $1.15 billion for lead paint remediation in homes throughout seven counties, but as the companies appealed, the appellate court found that they should only be liable for homes built before 1950, which reduced the damages to between $400 and $800 million.

Are These Claims Fair?

Product liability claims, specifically, are not appropriate in the lead paint cases because all of the sellers of the products cannot be identified. Private nuisance claims also do not make sense because there is no proof of causation. What the court appears to have done is recognized a “public right” tort and aggregated a number of individual, private right claims into a single class claim. Yet, the Due Process Clause protects citizens from the imposition of retroactive liability like this. A number of these public nuisance cases filed by local governments and states arguably seek to hold businesses liable without satisfying the traditional elements of tort liability. 

Contact Our Texas Corporate Defense Attorneys

Manufacturers can face a number of frivolous product liability and toxic tort claims in our modern world. In these cases, having qualified defense representation is absolutely essential. Contact our South Texas product liability and corporate defense attorneys at Colvin, Saenz, Rodriguez & Kennamer, L.L.P.  today to find out more about the skillful representation we provide.



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