By Lisa Rickard
This op-ed originally appeared in the San Jose Mercury-News on January 31, 2014
It’s not by accident that our organization consistently ranks California as having one of the worst lawsuit climates in the nation. The recent absurdist lead paint decision more than lives up to that finding.
In December, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge James Kleinberg ruled that the mere presence of interior lead paint creates a public nuisance and ordered three former lead paint manufacturers to pony up $1.1 billion for a massive government program to inspect the interiors of millions of California homes and abate any lead paint found there. Last month, the judge upped the bill by $50 million.
The ruling is the result of decades of trial lawyer venue shopping. It says to business executives that if you don’t have a crystal ball about alleged harm your products may cause decades in the future, even though you had no way of knowing about that harm despite plaintiffs’ lawyers’ claims, you can be sued and in effect found liable for your lack of omniscience.
The victims of this misguided litigation are California home-owners. The ruling puts all pre-1978 California homes under a cloud. It creates tremendous uncertainty about the value of millions of homes and raises serious questions about liabilities when homes are appraised and sold.