Chamber Seeks Information About Providence, R.I., Culpability on Lead Paint

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March 25, 2001

WASHINGTON, D.C., March 26, 2001 - The United States Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform (ILR) filed Public Records Requests late Friday to determine what culpability the city of Providence, Rhode Island, and state government agencies have in the context of legal action against the former manufacturers of lead pigment and lead-based paint.

"Our goal is to expose the possible legal liability of the governments who are filing such lawsuits," said ILR President James Wootton. "We believe this exposure may lead some government agencies to consider whether lead paint problems can best be solved without litigation in which they might also be held liable."

Rhode Island has filed a lawsuit against the manufacturers, seeking compensation based on a controversial "market share" theory of damages. This apportionment of damages would assign monetary liability to individual manufacturers based on market share, regardless of actual liability, despite the fact that lead paint has not been manufactured for decades in the United States.

The ILR - which filed a similar suit in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, last year - is running a Sunshine Express inquiry to get the facts regarding whether city and state agencies have discharged their responsibility to maintain paint in municipal housing units, have required private landlords to do the same, and if they have made any attempt to abate harm caused by lead paint. The Sunshine Express is designed to give the public all the information necessary to assess whether expensive litigation is the way to solve these kinds of problems.

"Injuries from deteriorated lead-based paint should not be minimized but neither should the responsibility of governmental or private owners of property to maintain paint in their premises," he said. "In the rush to the court house, the State of Rhode Island and City of Providence ought not to ignore their own potentially significant liability."