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July 17, 2019

$305 million settlement reached for California cities & counties in historic lead pigment litigation

A $305 million settlement reached today in California resolves nearly 20 years of litigation that found three lead paint companies created a public nuisance by promoting the use of toxic lead pigment in homes. The settlement creates an abatement fund that will mitigate the harm caused to 10 plaintiff cities and counties by defendants Sherwin-Williams Company, NL Industries, Inc., and ConAgra Grocery Products Company. The 10 cities and counties on behalf of the People of the State of California are: Santa Clara County, Alameda County and 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.

Motley Rice, with co-counsel, represents plaintiffs in the landmark case, People v. Conagra Grocery Products Company, Case No. S246102, and served as lead trial counsel for plaintiffs in the 2014 bench trial in which the defendant companies were found culpable for knowingly promoting hazardous products.

The 10 cities and counties will divide the settlement funds based on the amount of homes with lead paint in their jurisdictions. Each jurisdiction will then create local clean-up programs designed to meet their specific needs.

“These 10 California counties and cities can finally have access to the resources that will allow them to clean up the mess these defendants created. Thousands of children who were exposed to toxic lead paint due to the defendants’ actions likely continue carry those harmful effects, including, in some cases, severe neurological damage and developmental delays,” said Motley Rice attorney Fidelma Fitzpatrick, who served as lead trial counsel for plaintiffs in the 2014 trial. “While the damage cannot be undone, this settlement offers a better future to ensure that more children will not have the potential to be exposed to toxic lead paint. This settlement will make that possible by allowing California families in plaintiff jurisdictions to come home to an environment that’s free from lead.”

Despite lead paint being outlawed for residential purposes by the Federal Government more than 35 years ago, it is still present in more than five million homes built prior to 1978 in the represented cities and counties, and continues to threaten the health of California’s families and children. In 2009 alone, 10,875 children in the cities and counties prosecuting the case had been poisoned by lead. No level of exposure to lead or lead paint is believed to be safe. 

Today’s settlement comes roughly nine months after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the litigation, exhausting defense appeals of the January 2014 ruling by Judge James P. Kleinberg that declared lead pigment companies created a public nuisance by promoting the use of toxic paint in California homes. A November 2017 ruling by a three-justice panel of the California Court of Appeals, 6th District affirmed the majority of Kleinberg’s ruling regarding the culpability of the defendants, remanding the litigation to the Santa Clara Superior Court to calculate costs to fund the abatement and remove toxic paint from pre-1951 constructed homes in plaintiff jurisdictions. Defendants attempted to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court of California, but the Court declined to review the case in February 2018, followed by the U.S. Supreme Court’s denial later that year. The settlement removes restrictions by date for use of the funds. 

The county counsel and city attorneys who brought the case were assisted by Motley Rice, along with Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, LLP; Law Office of Peter Earle; Altshuler Berzon LLP and Mary Alexander and Associates.

Read the California Cities and Counties press release on the settlement.

Related news:

Oct. 16, 2018: California lead pigment litigation final after SCOTUS declines to hear defendant’s appeal
Feb. 16, 2018: California lead paint verdict upheld: Supreme Court denies review of defendant appeal
Nov. 15, 2017: California Court of Appeals sides with Plaintiffs in historic lead paint case, agrees lead paint manufacturers knowingly promoted toxic lead paint
Jan. 8, 2014: Motley Rice proud to serve as co-lead trial counsel in billion dollar public health ruling in California