SCOTUS Upholds California Supreme Court: Lead Paint Manufacturers Liable for More Than $400 Million


The US Supreme Court declined to review a California Supreme Court decision holding multiple lead paint manufacturers responsible for cleanup costs amounting to over $400 million. The longstanding litigation was brought under the theory that lead paint contamination was a public nuisance. Lead paint has been known for decades as toxic.

The LA Times reported:

“The lead paint industry’s efforts to avoid a cleanup bill for more than $400 million has reached end of the road.

"The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to review California state court rulings finding Sherwin-Williams, Conagra and NL Industries responsible for lead paint contamination in thousands of homes built before 1951. That date is when the companies said their predecessor firms ceased actively advertising lead-based paint as a residential product.

"The court’s action closes a key chapter in an 18-year legal battle waged by 10 California cities and counties, including Los Angeles County and the city of San Diego. Their lawsuit, originally filed in state court in Santa Clara in 2000, asserted the residual lead in old homes was contributing to severe health problems in children exposed to the paint. "It's at the top of our list of environmental threats," Jeffrey Gunzenhauser, the interim health officer and medical director for Los Angeles County, told me last year.

See, “Supreme Court deals final blow to lead paint manufactuers’ years-long effort to avoid cleanup costs.”

Besides childhood exposures caused by contaminated housing, lead paint is recognized as a major workplace hazard. “The worker becomes exposed to lead when dust and fumes are inhaled and when lead is ingested through contamination on hands, water, food and clothing. When lead enters the respiratory and digestive tracts of the human body it is released to the blood and distributed throughout the system. More than 90% of the body's lead is accumulated in the bones where it is stored for many years. The bones then release the lead back into the bloodstream and re-expose the system long after the original occupational exposure has ceased.” Gelman, Jon L, Workers’ Compensation Law, “Lead Related Disease,” 38 NJPRAC 9.2 (Thomson-Reuters 2018). 

Workers’ Compensation courts have long held that workplace exposure to lead is a compensable illness. Short duration exposures cause lead poisoning. Mitchell v. Taylor, 18 N.J.Misc. 255, 12 A.2d 851 (Dept. of Labor 1940). 

Related articles about childhood and workplace lead exposure click here.


 Jon L. Gelman is nationally recognized as an author, lecturer and skilled trial attorney in the field of workers’ compensation law and occupational/environmental disease litigation. Over a career spanning more than four decades, he has been involved in complex litigation involving thousands of clients challenging the mega-industries of asbestos, tobacco, lead paint and burn pits. He is the author of the 3-volume treatise entitled Workers’ Compensation Law (West-Thomson-Reuters) and co-author of the national treatise of Modern Workers' Compensation Law (West-Thomson-Reuters).


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