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Federal Court Ruling Clears Way For Lead Paint-Related Lawsuits

Ruling Would Allow 170 Lawsuits To Be Re-Filed

Photo: Brian Turner

A federal appeals court ruling opens the door for more than 100 children poisoned by lead paint to sue the companies that made the paint.

The decision from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago reinstates a controversial 2005 Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling that was later stuck down by federal district Judge Rudolph Randa. This week’s ruling upholds what’s called a risk contribution theory, which allows lead poisoning victims to sue several companies who made different parts of the paint.

Attorney Peter Earle represents a Milwaukee boy who filed the original suit. He said the ruling vindicates an important legal theory.

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“When you have companies who are producing a product that’s widely distributed that they know is hazardous and they don’t warn people of that hazard and as result of that create a massive public health consequence that the completely innocent public suffers from, they should be held accountable for that,” Earle said.

The ruling does leave in place a law passed in 2011 that bars similar lawsuits against multiple companies in the future.

Jim Pugh, of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, said that is important for the Wisconsin business climate.

“You don’t want to have collective liability in civil litigation. You can’t have a system of justice that allows people to be thrown into one big pot and then tapped for damages,” Pugh said.

The ruling does allow 170 lead paint lawsuits that were put on hold to be re-filed and could result in the paint companies paying damages. Trial lawyers say it also sets the stage for changing the 2011 law that currently bars any future lawsuits.