On July 17, 2019, ConAgra Grocery Products Company, Sherwin Williams and NL Industries came to an agreement with ten counties in California that alleged the companies’ lead-based paint was the cause for a public health crisis in California. The settlement brings to an end nearly 20 years of litigation and demands each company pay a sum of $101,666,666.67—totaling $305 million—to be paid to the plaintiffs. The settlement states that the monies will be used “to address public health hazards, bodily injury, personal injuries, and property damage related to Lead Paint.”The myriad of health concerns surrounding lead paint were known to exist as early as early as 1904 when Sherwin Williams themselves published a report by French expert Richard Guenther called, “The Dangers of White Lead.” The report expressed that “the absolute disuse of white lead has become an imperative necessity.” The United States is far from “absolute disuse,” however, as homes, schools and most every commercial building built before 1960 used lead based paint prior to its official ban by Congress in 1978.
The alleged lack of concern for public health and negligence in the U.S. was the basis for the case in question. The complaint asserted various claims including property damage, personal injury, negligence and fraud. Due to the widespread use of lead paint before its ban, the number of plaintiffs involved in the case grew as time went on. In 2011, plaintiffs amended the complaint for a fourth time seeking abatement of all lead paint from public and private homes, buildings and properties in the wronged counties.
In 2014, a decision handed down by Superior Court Judge James Kleinberg ordered the defendants to pay $1.15 billion to fund a government program to address health risks associated with lead paint exposure. In 2017, however, this ruling’s impact was limited by a California state appeals court, and later, by the California State Supreme Court, which refused review of the appellate court’s decision.
This lengthy litigation resulted in $305 million to improve the lives of those affected by lead paint. The case ran longer than most would have expected when it first began in 2000, but as Santa Clara County Counsel James R. Williams said in his statement following the settlement, “We have fought to hold these companies accountable for nearly 20 years, and will finally have needed funds to devote to protecting our children from lead poisoning.”
The case is: The People of the State of California v. ConAgra Grocery Products et al, Case No.: 1-00-CV-788657
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