The story begins in the 30’s and 40’s. Despite the known harmful side effects of lead based paints, manufacturers continued to produce the product AND advertise that it was a safe kid friendly product. Finally, the truth came out and the United States banned lead based paint in 1978. The story is not unlike the litigation surrounding cigarettes and asbestos.
Paint manufacturers made billions and children across the country were placed at serious risk from lead based paint. In fact, many children today who live in pre-1978 housing remain at risk. Rhode Island was hit particularly hard and many children were poisoned. Our AG at the time, Sheldon Whitehouse, hired outside plaintiff counsel to sue the paint manufacturers to absorb the massive costs that lead based paint placed on the State due to increased health care costs and housing costs. The state won…billions!
The money was to be used to remove lead based paint from hundreds of thousands of Rhode Island homes. Despite this important ruling which sent a clear message to corporations placing profits before safety, the Rhode Island Supreme Court overturned the jury verdict.
The paint manufacturers, seemingly convinced of their own righteousness and believing the lawsuit to have been frivolous, sought to be reimbursed for all of their trial costs. Yesterday, Judge Silverstein ruled that the defendants were not entitled to defense costs because the case was neither frivolous nor in bad faith. Furthermore, forcing the state to pay the defense costs would deter the State from bringing future litigation intended to protect the public welfare.