Lead paint was so widely used in commercial, industrial and residential settings that the clean up has lasted for decades and will likely last for many years to come. In an effort to generate funds for abatement activities, some public organizations are filing public nuisance lawsuits against paint companies that manufactured lead-based paint.

So far this attempt to litigate a financial solution to lead abatement costs has not been successful. In July 2008, several high profile cases at the state supreme court level have dismissed or voluntarily dropped.

Recently, the Rhode Island Supreme Court threw out a case that would have cost paint companies billions of dollars in clean up costs. An attorney for the Sherwin-Williams Company, one of the defendants in the case, said that the high court’s decision “confirmed that public nuisance lawsuits are ill-advised and without merit.”

The Rhode Island decision has had a domino effect in Ohio, where a public nuisance suit against paint manufactures has been dropped by the city of Columbus. In the last two years, ten other Ohio cities had filed public nuisance suits, only to have the state supreme court uphold a ruling that manufacturers cannot be sued for public nuisance for making defective products.

The only other public nuisance litigation on record is in the state of California, where the Santa Clara lead public nuisance lawsuit is still in appeals court process. In April, the Sixth Appellate District Court of Appeals ruled that the public entities bringing suit could retain their contingency fee agreements. The lawyers for the paint companies requested a California Supreme Court review of this decision, but so far the high court has not ruled in this matter.

Coming Up: The Santa Clara Lead Paint Public Nuisance Lawsuit