Landmark Lawsuit

In 2000, the County of Santa Clara filed a landmark lawsuit in Santa Clara County Superior Court—County of Santa Clara, et al. v. Atlantic Richfield Company, et al, No. CV788657—to hold former lead-based paint manufacturers responsible for promoting residential use of lead-based paint despite their knowledge that the product was highly toxic, especially to children.  The County was later joined in the litigation by nine other cities and counties: the counties of Alameda, Los Angeles, Monterey, San Mateo, Solano, and Ventura; the City and County of San Francisco; and the cities of Oakland and San Diego. Together, these cities and counties encompass about half of the older housing stock in California.

In 2014, after a six-week trial, the Santa Clara County Superior Court ruled that three former lead-based paint manufacturers—The Sherwin-Williams Company, ConAgra Grocery Products, and NL Industries—were liable for knowingly marketing this toxic product. The final ruling held that these three companies had created a public nuisance by concealing the dangers of lead and found that they had pursued a campaign against regulation of lead-based paint while actively promoting it for use in homes, despite knowing that lead-based paint was highly toxic. The court ordered the defendants to provide the funds needed to clean up lead-based paint inside homes built before 1978 in the ten cities and counties.   

In 2017, the Court of Appeal upheld the Superior Court’s decision in large part, and the California Supreme Court and United States Supreme Court each declined to review the Court of Appeal’s precedent-setting decision.  

After nearly 20 years of litigation and appeals, the parties reached a settlement resolving all claims in the case in July 2019. Under the settlement agreement, the three former manufacturers of lead based-paint are required to pay $305 million to the ten public entities that prosecuted the case to address lead-based paint hazards in their jurisdictions.

The ten prosecuting jurisdictions divided the settlement funds based on the number of homes with lead-based paint in each jurisdiction. Based on its relative percentage of affected housing, Santa Clara County will receive approximately $16.8 million for lead-based paint inspection, abatement, and related services.

This $305 million award will make the lead-based paint hazard identification and remediation work under the settlement the largest lead abatement program in the nation within a single state. The settlement is a major opportunity to protect millions of children in the years to come by removing lead hazards from their homes and home-based daycares and preventing lead poisoning at its source. 

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