(Chicago IL - June 13, 2007) On Tuesday, June 12, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled against the City of St. Louis in a public nuisance lawsuit against former manufacturers of lead paint. The following statement is from Maureen Martin, an attorney and senior fellow for legal affairs at The Heartland Institute. You may quote from this statement or contact Martin directly at 920/295-6032, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, for further comment.
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"The Missouri Supreme Court dealt a major blow yesterday to public nuisance cases involving lead-based paint when it ruled that the City of St. Louis's abatement costs cannot be recovered from defendant paint manufacturers whose paint products cannot be linked to any particular property involved.
"The 4-3 decision comes in a case brought by the city against a number of paint companies, including Sherwin Williams and Benjamin Moore, to recover its present and future lead-based paint abatement costs, even though the city has no proof that the lead-based paint made by any particular paint company is involved.
"The Missouri case is part of a major nationwide effort to use 'public nuisance' to do away with state product liability law, which holds manufacturers liable for injuries caused by defective products they made, but only when their products can be linked to the injury. Using the 'public nuisance' theory, plaintiffs' trial lawyers hired by state attorneys general--usually on a contingent-fee basis where they are paid a percentage of the monetary damages recovered--have been seeking to do away with this linkage, which is a fundamental part of tort law. Illinois previously rejected such an effort, but similar cases are now pending before the supreme courts of Rhode Island and New Jersey and in lower courts in Wisconsin (where a trial is now underway), Ohio, and California.
"In rejecting the city's claim, the Missouri Supreme Court said: 'Any attempt to find liability absent actual causation is an attempt to connect the defendant with an injury or event that the defendant had nothing to do with. Mere logic and common sense dictates that there be some causal relationship between the defendant's conduct and the injury or event for which damages are sought.'
"The Missouri Supreme Court is absolutely right in upholding the rule of law. Product liability laws have been carefully written to strike a balance between compensating injured persons and protecting manufacturers from claims that are ancient and speculative. The pending public nuisance cases seek to eviscerate this long-established law.
"The contingent fee lawyers' cases are cynically calculated to be 'for the children' exposed to lead-based paint. But the truth is that such injuries result from property owners' failure to maintain painted surfaces and prevent them from deteriorating and flaking, not from the paint itself. And, as property maintenance has improved, such injuries to children are in dramatic decline all over the country.
"So these claims are not 'about the children'--they are 'about the money' that the plaintiffs' lawyers stand to recover."