US chemicals, others join in $4bn liability case

01 February 2008 21:10  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--US paint and chemical producers and a broad array of other manufacturers have asked the Rhode Island Supreme Court to overturn a lead paint ruling that industry officials said on Friday could pose $4bn (€2.7bn) in liability costs.


The American Chemistry Council (ACC) and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) have joined the National Paint & Coatings Association (NPCA) in challenging a lower court ruling in Rhode Island that found paint companies liable for removal or other remediation of lead-based paints in homes, office buildings, schools and other structures throughout the state.


Estimates of the cost of such a vast remediation effort run as high as $4bn, according to attorneys involved in the case.


The case was initially filed on behalf of the State of Rhode Island in 1999 on grounds that lead in common interior house paints constitutes a health hazard and that paint producers should be liable for related health costs and for removing lead paint where it still exists.


The US banned production of lead-based paints in 1978, but those paints still cover interiors in an unknown number of homes, schools, offices or other enclosed facilities in the state.


NAM has joined the case along with chemical and paint industry trade groups because it fears an adverse ruling would open all product manufacturers to similar liability exposure.


“It is not just the chemicals industry that is exposed in this,” said Don Evans, senior counsel at the American Chemistry Council.


Evans said the ACC, NAM and other allies of the Lead Industries Association - which is the principal defendant in the case - contend that under law paint producers cannot be held liable for a product that was not defective when it was widely and commonly sold prior to the 1978 ban.


“This is not a defective product,” Evans said of lead-based paints produced in years prior to its ban.  “It was sold legally, and it was used and is safe as used if maintained.”


He noted that property owners or landlords who failed to maintain paint coatings, for example by allowing them to deteriorate, break off and chip, have been held liable in other cases but that the manufacturers should face no liability.


“If you buy a car and drive it and do not keep the brakes in good repair and you run over someone as a consequence, the victim cannot sue the automobile manufacturer,” he said.


Similar lead-paint suits in other states have failed, although others are pending. Evans said a win by manufacturers in the Rhode Island case “would be a huge victory and would chill other similar cases around the country”.


The Rhode Island Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments in the case in May this year, with a decision possible by July.


($1.00 = €0.67)

By: Joe Kamalick
+1 713 525 2653

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