In a final ruling that could affect older homes in Pleasanton, a Superior Court judge in San Jose increased the amount that three large corporations must pay to eliminate lead paint from 3.5 million old homes in eight California counties as well as San Diego and Oakland to $1.15 billion.
Sherwin Williams, NL Industries and ConAgra Grocery Products must place the sum into an account to be used to remove the lead paint from homes built decades ago to prevent the toxic metal from harming children living in them, Santa Clara County Judge James Kleinberg said.
Kleinberg, who last month ruled the companies had to pay $1.1 billion, recalculated the amount, saying it would cost $400 million to inspect and $750 million to remove lead paint from the interiors of 3,555,630 California homes included in the lawsuit, filed 13 years ago, according to
Tuesday's court filing.
The companies held liable in the case must make payments within 60 days to a fund administered by the state Department of Public Health's
Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Branch and disbursed to elected officials of the affected counties and cities, Kleinberg said.
The suit covers homes with lead paint inside -- excluding the exteriors -- in Alameda County, as well as in Santa Clara, San Mateo, Solano, Monterey, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Ventura counties and the cities of San Diego and Oakland.
The companies plan to appeal the judgment, a spokeswoman for the defendants, Bonnie Campbell, said in a statement Wednesday.
"This ruling is judicial overreach that improperly takes over the role of the legislature," Campbell said. "It creates a massive new public works project that rewards landlords who do not comply with the law."
"It also fails to consider the many adverse impacts on California's housing market, and it potentially causes more harm than good to
children," Campbell said. "The decision is wrong on the facts and wrong on the law. It is a bad model that courts across the country have rejected time and again."
Joseph Cotchett, a Burlingame attorney for the plaintiffs who took the case at the request of Santa Clara County back in 2000, said in a
statement that the settlement fund would protect the health of children living in the homes with lead painted interiors.
Lead paint from chips or dust may cause children to suffer from lead poisoning and damage their livers, kidneys, brains and nervous systems,
"This is a landmark decision that will dramatically improve the lives of children throughout the state and holds the lead paint companies responsible for removing toxic paint," Cotchett said.
"The companies promoted lead paint knowing it was poisonous to children," he said.
Cotchett said that the defendants had spent $100 million in legal fees and have already lost previous appeals in federal courts of appeals and
the California Supreme Court.
The plaintiffs in the case, including the 10 affected counties and cities, argued that Sherwin Williams, NL and ConAgra -- and companies that
each firm bought and so acquired past legal liabilities -- were liable for the harm done by lead paint inside homes built before 1978, some going back to the 1930s and 1940s, according to Cotchett.
Many homes in Pleasanton were built before 1978 and a number of homes in the more "historic
neighborhoods were built in the early 20th century.
The judge asked that the $1.15 billion be disbursed in percentage shares to the government jurisdictions with the spending overseen by the
Board of Supervisors in each county and City Councils in the two cities.
Kleinberg increased the amounts to be disbursed to the counties and cities in his first ruling on Dec. 16.
Los Angeles County, the state's most populous, would get $632.5 million (up from $605 million), with Alameda and Santa Clara counties next with $103 million each (compared to $99 million before), then San Francisco and San Diego with $80.5 million each (up from $77 million).
San Mateo County would get up to $57.5 million (an increase of $2.5 million), Ventura County $46 million (up by $2 million) and Solano and Monterey counties $23 million apiece ($1 million more), according to the judge's decision.
The money will create thousands of jobs in the counties and cities, Cotchett said.