Paint Makers Won't Face Punitive Damages

Wednesday, February 22nd 2006, 12:44 pm
By: News On 6

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) _ Three paint manufacturers found liable for creating a public nuisance in Rhode Island won't face punitive damages because they stopped making lead pigment years ago, a judge ruled.

The companies still face the expense of cleaning up lead paint contamination around the state, which advocates and lawyers say could amount to billions of dollars.

Last week, a jury held Sherwin-Williams Co., NL Industries Inc. and Millennium Holdings LLC responsible for lead paint present in thousands of older homes in Rhode Island. The sale of lead paint was banned in 1978 in the United States after studies showed it can cause brain damage and other serious health problems in children.

Superior Court Judge Michael Silverstein on Tuesday sided with the companies on the issue of punitive damages, which are meant to punish and deter misconduct.

The companies argued that there was no evidence they engaged in reckless or willful conduct amounting to a crime. They pointed out that lead paint was legal at the time they were manufacturing the product.

Rhode Island is the first state to successfully go after the companies in court. It wants the companies to pay for a program that could entail home inspections, the removal or the painting over of lead paint and public education.

The judge will decide later exactly what the companies must do to fix the problems caused by lead paint.

Jack McConnell, a lawyer representing the state, said he was disappointed with the Silverstein's ruling, but welcomed the overall verdict requiring the companies to shoulder the cleanup costs.

``You don't often see that in the law, where people are ordered to go back and fix a problem _ and that's what this is all about,'' McConnell said.