No Decision Yet in R.I. Lead Paint Case

February 21, 2006

A week after beginning deliberations in Rhode Island’s landmark lawsuit against former makers of lead paint and pigment, jurors have still not reached a verdict.

The jury met for about four hours Monday afternoon before being sent home for the day by a superior court judge. Jurors were to resume deliberations Tuesday morning.

Rhode Island became the first state in 1999 to sue lead paint companies, alleging they created a public nuisance that continues to poison children. The state has not asked for a specific dollar amount, but cleanup and mitigation costs could be in the millions of dollars.

An earlier trial in 2002 ended in a hung jury after seven weeks of testimony and four days of deliberations.

This time around, the trial lasted more than three months.

The jurors nearly deadlocked last Thursday, telling the judge they could not agree whether lead paint had created a public nuisance. They resumed deliberations after the judge asked them whether they could come to a decision with a bit more time.

The four defendants are the Sherwin-Williams Co., Atlantic Richfield Co., NL Industries and Millennium Holdings.

Jurors have interrupted their deliberations with questions twice. They asked the judge if they could have access to trial testimony and they requested additional clarification on what would constitute a public nuisance.

State attorneys called doctors, home inspectors and public health historians as witnesses during the trial. Witnesses described the harmful effects of lead exposure, saying children can lose IQ points, develop behavioral disorders, gastrointestinal pain and even brain damage.

The defendants say lead paint does not pose a public nuisance in Rhode Island and argued that routine building maintenance can spare children from being poisoned. Their attorneys rested their case without calling any witnesses.

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