Caroselli, Beachler & Coleman, L.L.C.

$1.1 billion award is large-scale premises liability victory

Allegheny County landlords must maintain the properties they lease to keep them safe for the people who live, work or visit there. Dangerous conditions like snow and ice build-up on sidewalks can lead to preventable injuries. On occasion, a premises hazard may originate from an outside source.

Although lead paints are still employed for some applications, the toxic substance has been banned from paints for residences for over 35 years. Taking lead paint off consumer shelves, however, doesn't mean that all homeowners and renters are safe from ingesting or inhaling lead toxins.

The walls of homes built before 1978 may still contain lead paint, disguised but deadly beneath newer paint layers. Lead poisoning has been traced to damage in the nervous system and brain, among other health problems. Until the ban, babies and young children were gnawing on toys that were painted with lead.

A West Coast liability lawsuit against three major lead paint manufacturers filed in 2000 was recently resolved. The plaintiffs, consisting of nearly a dozen counties and cities, were awarded $1.1 billion to decontaminate pre-lead ban homes in their communities.

The court determined that the defendants, ConAgra, NL Industries and Sherwin Williams, were responsible for a public nuisance. The companies were accused of promoting a product while knowing the dangerous conditions lead paint created.

The defendants claimed they made and marketed products during a time when lead paint had the government's approval. The plaintiffs brought forth evidence to the contrary that showed the companies were well aware of the health hazards of lead paint. The defense tried to argue that the paint companies were paying damages meant for "scofflaw landlords" who should be sued under premises liability claims.

Even with community efforts to make houses safer, Pennsylvania property owners do not escape legal responsibilities toward injured tenants and visitors. A plaintiff may recover damages for pain, medical treatment, lost earnings and emotional distress.

Source: San Jose Mercury News, "Billion-dollar ruling in local lawsuit against lead-paint makers" No author given, Dec. 17, 2013

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Caroselli, Beachler & Coleman, L.L.C.
20 Stanwix Street, Seventh Floor
Pittsburgh, PA 15222

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