Mississippi Familes Lose Suit Against Lead Paint Maker

By | August 7, 2006

A federal jury in Jackson, Mississippi ruled last Friday against five families who claimed their children’s mental disabilities were caused by lead paint peeling from in their decades-old apartments.

Attorneys for Dallas-based paint manufacturer NL Industries, Inc., had argued the 13 Mississippi children’s problems were caused by genetics or other sources.

Evidence presented during the three-week trial showed the children could have been exposed to lead from other sources, said Mike Jones, an attorney for NL Industries. He said soil samples near the apartments also contained lead from automotive materials, such as car batteries.

“The precise question that the jury had to answer was whether NL was liable to the plaintiffs as the result of a design defect or negligence. The jury answered that question for each of the plaintiffs, ‘no,”‘ Jones said.

The genetics defense struck a sensitive chord in the Mississippi Delta, where the apartments are located and most of the residents are black and poor, including the plaintiffs.

Attorney Michael Casano said his clients’ race and income did not affect the case.

“We talked to the jury and they couldn’t conclude that the paint was the major cause of these kids’ conditions,” Casano said.

None of the plaintiffs was in court Friday. There were four blacks and four whites on the jury.

Casano said he likely would ask U.S. District Judge Mike Mills to enter a judgment notwithstanding the verdict. If that’s unsuccessful, Casano said he may appeal.

The plaintiffs had sought unspecified damages.

In February, NL Industries and two other former makers of lead paint lost a lawsuit brought by the state of Rhode Island, which claimed the companies created a public nuisance that still poisons children today.

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