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Wisconsin jury rejects lead paint claim

A Milwaukee County jury has found in favor of five paint companies with former connections to lead paint manufacturing.

Sherwin-Williams, Atlantic Richfield, DuPont, NL Industries and Millennium Holdings were found not liable for the lowered mental faculties of a plaintiff who said he ingested lead paint in two apartments as a child.

The jury found that 17-year-old Steven Thomas, who sued the companies for more than $2 million in damages, was not brain damaged because of lead paint. One attorney, Peter Earle, said he planned to appeal the jury’s decision.

The Milwaukee decision is just one of several recent lead paint court decisions favorable to manufacturers. As in the Milwaukee case, several litigants have argued that paint companies should be liable for contaminated homes, which were painted with lead paint prior to its ban in 1978. Attorneys for paint companies have argued that landlords should be responsible for cleaning up their properties.

Lead paint lawsuits in other states have been rejected for different reasons this year. In Ohio, the state Supreme Court said municipalities must be able to show, without a doubt, who manufactured the paint in contaminated buildings before proceeding with a case against manufacturers.

In New Jersey, the state Supreme Court also said that difficulty in identifying who manufactured lead paint used in homes meant that manufacturers would not face litigation in that state. Prior to the New Jersey decision, the Missouri Supreme Court cited a similar argument in dismissing a lead paint suit in St. Louis.

In 2005, a Rhode Island jury ordered three paint manufacturers to clean up homes in that state -- the companies are appealing the verdict.