City solicitor against suing lead-paint makers

April 19, 2006|By DOUG DONOVAN | DOUG DONOVAN,SUN REPORTER

Baltimore's top lawyer recommended yesterday against suing lead-paint manufacturers for damages their products have caused city residents.

City Solicitor Ralph Tyler expressed his opinion at a City Council committee hearing for a resolution asking his advice on the possibility of success for such a lawsuit.

"It is our view that litigation against [lead-paint] manufacturers is not likely to be successful," Tyler told council members Mary Pat Clarke, Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. and Belinda Conaway.

Clarke began the hearing with a recitation of the horrors inflicted by lead-paint poisoning and laid the blame directly on manufacturers. She said they should "pick up after themselves" just as tobacco and asbestos companies have, especially since 140,000 city homes still contain lead paint.

Clarke supports litigation, garnering support from several plaintiffs' lawyers specializing in lead cases and the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. The committee will vote on the resolution next week.

Tyler said a city lawsuit would face daunting legal obstacles in Maryland because of the statute of limitations and the city's burden to prove the manufacturers' actions caused lead poisoning. He also said costs could be prohibitive, and that state law does not support a legal theory that manufacturers should pay a percentage of damages equal to their market share.

But supporters of a lawsuit said Tyler is not attempting to find creative ways to win such an action. They pointed to the success of Rhode Island, which won the first case in the nation against three makers of lead paint. A jury there ruled that the companies must clean 300,000 contaminated homes and pay billions in damages.

"The Rhode Island experience can be repeated here," said Saul E. Kerpelman, a lawyer who represents lead-poisoned children. Two other lawyers - Evan K. Thalenberg and David F. Albright - joined him in saying that their firms would be willing to handle the lawsuit at no cost to the city.

Shawon Reed said that her son was poisoned by lead paint 13 years ago, and that the city needs to sue.

"I feel sorry for the children of tomorrow," Reed said. "Our kids are going by the wayside, one by one."

doug.donovan@baltsun.com

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