The lead paint industry remains successful in avoiding responsibility for the harm it has caused hundreds of thousands of children as well as the millions or billions in property damage. As a San Francisco Personal Injury Attorney representing those harmed and killed by defective products, I can speak first hand.
In April of this year, the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention recalculated its estimate of the number of children in America with dangerous levels of lead in their blood. The CDC’s new child lead-poisoning number is 535,000, announced in the midst of lawsuits against the lead companies that made lead pigment in paints which are still, to this day, flaking off in older dwellings in the U.S.
Since contractors who clean up lead-contaminated dwellings must wear full body protective gear, including gas masks, we can safely say that flaky lead paint is contaminating children who become exposed in older buildings. It’s inexcusable that the lead paint industry continually defeats one lawsuit after another, casting off any accountability for its wrongdoing.
Apart from one settlement, the industry has successfully defended roughly 50 lawsuits by states, cities, counties and school districts over the last 24 years.
There’s been only one settlement out of 50 lawsuits brought on by municipalities and states seeking damages to fund lead paint removal. Why does an industry that is knowingly causing harm not want to clean up its act and come out of this disaster with a win-win solution? Where are the ethics when money is more important than lives?
I am not happy to report that the lead paint industry is about to win a big case in San Jose brought by the People of the State of California, namely 10 public agencies, including the cities of San Francisco, Oakland and San Diego, as well as Los Angeles and Santa Clara counties. Due to hazardous conditions with lead contamination, the suit seeks to force the various lead paint companies to inspect more than 3 million California homes, and to remove any lead paint hazards that are discovered. This would cost approximately $1 billion, but California lives are worth it, aren’t they?
This is starting to sound like the tobacco industry. Those with interests in the lead industry have enough money invested that they are willing to do whatever it takes to keep living with greed. The lead pigment industry has been represented by legal heavyweights, including top corporate defenders. Even though modern day knowledge proves that lead is hazardous—as opposed to a 1923 ad in National Geographic which promoted that “lead helps to guard your health—the humans are still losing this battle, unfortunately.
Despite recent discoveries and truths about the dangers of lead, why are the companies in the lead paint industry getting away with this? Where is the justice in our system when money can buy the truth, even a truth that has caused an estimated 535,000 lead poisoning to children?
For a short period, I stopped suing the City of San Francisco and represented the City as part of a team of lawyers representing cities and counties. The suit was for payment of the tens of millions that the City has had to spend to remove lead paint from its own property.
Please let me share with you one way that the lead paint industry has successfully dodged responsibility for product liability. While lead paint was outlawed in the late 1970s, it has not all been removed or replaced. For years, the lead paint companies have maintained that lead paint is not dangerous until it flakes. So, they recommended painting another coat of non-lead paint over the lead paint. Well, we all know that this system cannot go on forever. One day you have to stop painting one coat over the last; and one day the paint must be removed, and then it’s time to bring in the Haz Mat people.
In California we have a two year limitation on how long you can wait to file a lawsuit after you reasonably should suspect a product defect has caused you harm. So, when the municipalities sued the lead paint industry recently, the defense was that the municipalities knew that lead paint was dangerous and just waited too long.
So, first the paint companies say lead paint is not dangerous if you just cover it up, and after they are sued, the lead paint companies say it was obviously dangerous all along. Oh, and if you get past that defense you still cannot identify whose paint has caused you harm.
Our beleaguered cities and counties must foot the bill while the lead paint companies flick off efforts to impose responsibility, champagne corks popping from the safety of their mahogany foxholes.