The Rhode Island Supreme Court overturned a landmark verdict against three former lead paint producers Tuesday, a major setback for communities that want the companies to decontaminate hundreds of thousands of homes and other buildings.
The unanimous decision reversed the lone victory to date against the lead paint industry.
A jury found Sherwin-Williams Co., NL Industries Inc. and Millennium Holdings LLC liable in 2006 for creating a public nuisance by manufacturing and selling a toxic product.
The state had proposed that the companies spend an estimated $2.4 billion to inspect and clean hundreds of thousands of homes built before 1980 that it said were likely to contain lead paint.
The court, in its 4-0 decision, said the state's lawsuit should have been dismissed at the outset. It said that while lead paint was a public health problem in Rhode Island, it wasn't the companies' responsibility to clean it up because they had no control over how the paint was used.