Lead Poisoning

Active Case

No parent wants to discover that their child’s learning delay or behavioral disorders are due to an entirely preventable, yet often unknown, cause: lead poisoning.

Sadly, lead poisoning is one of the most common health problems impacting American children today, affecting roughly half a million children in the U.S. ages five and under as of 2017.

July 17, 2019

Case Update:  $305 MILLION SETTLEMENT REACHED IN HISTORIC CALIFORNIA LEAD LITIGATION

A $305 million settlement was reached in California to resolve nearly 20 years of litigation that found lead paint companies Sherwin-Williams Co., NL Industries, Inc., and ConAgra Grocery Products Co., created a public nuisance by promoting the use of toxic lead pigment in homes. The 10 plaintiff 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. Read more on the settlement.

Our Experience in Lead Poisoning Cases

Motley Rice’s work related to lead poisoning involves both trying to prevent lead poisoning from happening in communities and homes, and also representing people whose health has already been negatively affected by lead poisoning.

Our attorneys have litigated lead poisoning cases on behalf of government entities against the lead pigment industry, including in California and Rhode Island.

We are also working with co-counsel to fight for people poisoned by lead in Wisconsin in more than 170 cases. These cases were reactivated in July 2014 when a court of appeals overturned a Wisconsin federal judge’s previous ruling, making it possible for people suffering from lead poisoning to pursue the makers of harmful white lead carbonate for negligence and strict liability.

We are proud of our longstanding relationships with lead paint researchers, scientists and doctors who support efforts to help victims of childhood lead poisoning and prevent future harm.

The Harmful Effects of Childhood Lead Poisoning

There is no safe level of lead in the blood. For children, even small amounts of lead can cause persistent cognitive damage and at higher levels, and “can cause multiple and irreversible health problems, which include learning disabilities, attention-deficit disorder (ADHD), mental retardation, growth stunting, seizures, coma or, at high levels, death.”

Even though lead has been banned from paint products since 1978, homes built before that time are often still likely to contain the harmful substance. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than four million U.S. homes have children living in them who are being exposed to high levels of lead.

As these homes age, the issue of lead paint deterioration becomes a major concern. Lead paint chips, flecks and dust can become dislodged and may be ingested by young children. The National Center for Healthy Housing (NCHH) estimates that one gram of lead dust—about the contents of a sugar packet—spread evenly through 100 rooms, each 10 feet by 10 feet, can leave dust levels of more than twice the federal standard for a hazardous level of lead on floors.

Childhood Lead Poisoning

Children diagnosed with lead poisoning often suffer from:

  • anemia 
  • behavioral disorders 
  • hearing loss 
  • hyperactivity or attention deficit disorder 
  • learning disabilities 
  • mental retardation
  • neurological and renal damage 
  • speech delay 
  • stunted growth 

The Dangers of Adult Lead Exposure

Lead exposure can also pose serious dangers to pregnant women and industrial workers. Exposure to battery plants and lead smelters that use lead in their processing may also expose workers and children to dangerous levels of lead. Painters and workers with occupations involving welding, soldering, the chemical industry, foundries, gasoline refineries and the copper industry may bring dust home from their workplaces, resulting in secondhand exposure and poisoning to children.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), “approximately 804,000 workers in general industry and an additional 838,000 workers in construction are potentially exposed to lead.”

Milwaukee Litigation

In June 2019 our attorneys, with co-counsel, achieved a $6 million verdict for three young Milwaukee, Wis., residents who suffered severe developmental delays caused by toxic lead paint exposure in childhood. The case proceeded under Wisconsin’s unique law of risk contribution that allows plaintiffs to sue defendants for increasing the risk of harm to the public by manufacturing a dangerous product. The Sherwin-Williams Co., E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co., and Armstrong Containers, Inc., were defendants in the case. Read more.

California Litigation

For nearly 20 years, Motley Rice attorneys and co-counsel worked to hold a number of paint companies, including ConAgra Grocery Products Company, NL Industries and the Sherwin-Williams Company, responsible for concealing the dangers of lead and actively promoting lead paint for use in homes, despite knowing that it was highly toxic. The purpose of the litigation was to prevent lead poisoning from happening in homes and other buildings in 10 California cities and counties.

While defendants argued that they were not aware of the harmful effects of lead when they promoted their lead-based paints, the plaintiffs pointed out that in 1900, paint giant Sherwin-Williams called lead a “deadly cumulative poison” and stated that the more lead put into paint, the more children that would be injured; yet they continued to sell lead for use in paint for more than 70 years.

In January 2014, the honorable Judge James P. Kleinberg finalized his decision for the plaintiffs in People of California v. Atlantic Richfield et al, ruling that “[t]he Defendants against whom judgment is entered, jointly and severally, shall pay to the State of California $1,150,000,000 (One Billion One Hundred Fifty Million Dollars) into a specifically designated, dedicated, and restricted abatement fund” to help remove toxic paint from affected homes in the participating California municipalities.

After reviewing the decision on appeal, a three-justice panel of the California Court of Appeals, 6th Appellate District, affirmed the majority of Kleinberg’s ruling on Nov. 14, 2017, and agreed that an abatement funded by the defendants would be appropriate in order to clear toxic paint from homes, albeit only those constructed before 1951. The panel remanded the case back to the Santa Clara Superior Court to determine a new cost to establish the abatement fund. On Feb. 14, 2018, the Supreme Court of California denied a request from the defense to review the appeal, upholding the appellate panel’s ruling. Similarly in October 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court also declined to review the litigation, effectively exhausting defense appeals. The Court’s decision enabled discussions to move forward to establish the abatement fund to mitigate the harm. Read more on the Court’s decision.

A $305 million settlement was reached roughly nine months after the Supreme Court decision, resolving the litigation in July 2019. The settlement also removed eligibility restrictions that limited eligibility to pre-1951 constructed homes. Read more.    

Lead Poisoning Resources

Learn more about the impacts and prevention of lead poisoning:


Motley Rice LLC, a South Carolina Limited Liability Company, is engaged in the New Jersey practice of law through Motley Rice New Jersey LLC. Esther Berezofsky attorney responsible for New Jersey practice.