Battle Lines Drawn Over Lead Paint Poisoning Liability
Past suits against the paint manufacturers have failed because of difficulty
proving which manufacturer produced the lead pigment that poisoned a particular
If the Maryland bill passes, it will allow Baltimore attorney Peter G.
Angelos to pursue two lawsuits he has filed against the pigment industry,
according to Don Ryan, director of the Alliance to End Childhood Lead
Other market-share liability cases are expected, Ryan says. "There are
at least a half-dozen cities and states watching what's happening in Rhode
Island," he tells WebMD. One case that he expects will be filed shortly
will pit Milwaukee against the paint companies.
So far, advocates of going after the paint companies have suffered one
setback. In January, the New York State Appellate Court rejected the validity
of the market-share liability theory and reversed a decision by a state judge
in Buffalo that allowed plaintiffs in a lead paint poisoning case to proceed
under that theory.
It's not just the paint companies being targeted. In another case against
the New Orleans Housing Authority, the Louisiana Court of Appeals gave
class-action status to up to 2,000 lead-poisoned children to sue as a group. If
allowed to proceed, this case could set a precedent for future class-action
lead poisoning cases.
In St. Louis, the Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon recently filed suit in
St. Louis City Circuit Court against Healthcare USA of Missouri, LLC, and
Prudential Health Care Plan Inc. for failure to screen St. Louis children
enrolled in Medicaid. The suit alleges breach of contract and Medicaid fraud,
stating both companies accepted full payment for a range of services, including
lead testing, yet failed to test 82%, or 17,000, Medicaid-enrolled children
under age 2.
However, a panel of physicians and scientists affiliated with the American
Council on Science and Health (ACSH) concluded that for the majority of
American children, "lead poisoning is a condition of the past."
"That's chilling," says Ryan, adding that lead poisoning is an
environmental problem compounded by social problems, especially poverty.
For at least the last 50 years, progress in lead poisoning prevention has
been a struggle among public health, civil rights, and other officials fighting
for economic justice against the lead, gasoline, and real estate industries, he
says. "It's not a thing of the past for the ... children suffering from
- Lead poisoning has been eliminated from gasoline, new paint, food cans, and
other products, but nearly 1 million children are exposed to lead-based
products every day.
- Many government bodies are exploring lawsuits against different players in
the lead paint industry, accusing them of covering up known dangers about the
- Exposure to high levels of lead can cause brain and nervous system damage,
seizures, coma, and death, and low-level exposure can adversely affect a
child's ability to learn.