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November 13, 2001

Chamber Seeks Information About St. Louis Culpability on Lead Paint

WASHINGTON, D.C., Nov. 14, 2001 – The United States Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for Legal Reform (ILR) today filed Public Records Requests to determine the culpability of the city of St. Louis and Missouri’s government agencies in the context of their legal action against the former manufacturers of lead pigment and lead-based paint.

“Any time a local or state government tries to place singular blame on manufacturers for the lack of progress in cleaning up lead paint hazards, there is the possibility that those agencies are as legally liable as the accused,” said James Wootton, ILR President. “When that is the case, it is neither in the government’s nor the public’s best interest to litigate.”

St. Louis had filed a lawsuit against the manufacturers, seeking compensation based on a controversial “market share” theory of damages. This apportionment of damages would assign monetary liability to individual manufacturers based on market share, regardless of actual liability, despite the fact that lead paint has not been manufactured in the United States since the 1970s.

The ILR – which has filed similar requests in Milwaukee, Wisconsin last year and in Providence, Rhode Island – is running a “Sunshine Express” inquiry to determine whether city and state agencies have upheld their obligation to maintain paint in municipal housing, required private landlords to do the same, and made any attempt to abate harm caused by lead paint. The Sunshine Express is designed to give the public all the information necessary to assess whether expensive, risky, and prolonged litigation is the way to solve these kinds of problems.

“While the threat of lead-based paint poisoning is very real and dangerous, particularly to inner city children, suing manufacturers is neither the fairest nor the most efficient way to eradicate the crisis,” Wootton continued. “Funds that should otherwise go to lead abatement programs end up being diverted to pay trial lawyer fees and associated legal costs.”

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