California v. Atlantic Richfield – Public Justice Trial Lawyer of the Year Winner

Sometime in the 19th century, the medical community became aware of the damage that lead paint can cause to the developing brains of children. That did not stop paint companies from promoting and selling lead-based paints and touting the health benefits as important for sanitizing one’s home. Lead paint was sold across the country and despite being banned in 1978, can still be found in older houses and apartments particularly in low-income neighborhoods. Exposure to lead paint can cause irreversible brain damage as well as other developmental problems for children, who often ingest the dust from friction surfaces such as windows and doors. Low-income children are more likely to be exposed to lead paint in older substandard housing.

In 2000 ten cities and counties in California filed a lawsuit (California v. Atlantic Richfield) against many of the largest paint manufacturers in the United States. Fidelma Fitzpatrick of Motley Rice in Providence, RI and her team led the charge. After thirteen years of working on the case and a seven week trial, Fitzpatrick’s team successfully argued that the presence of lead pain in homes constituted a public nuisance and won a $1.15 billion dollar judgment against three large paint manufacturers. The  judgment will fund a state-run abatement program that will inspect homes and apartments across the state and remove lead paint. Fitzpatrick hopes that California v. Atlantic Richfield can be used as a template by other states and municipalities to deal with similar public nuisance issues.

Winning the case got Fitzpatrick and her team of Bob McConnell, Michaela McInnis, and Jonathan Orent, also of Motley Rice, and Vincent I. Parrett and Aileen Sprague, formerly of Motley Rice; Joseph Cotchett, Nancy L. Fineman, and Brian Schnarr of Cotchett, Pitre and McCarthy in Burlingame, Calif.; Mary Alexander, Sophia Aslami, and Jennifer Fiore of the Law Offices of Mary Alexander in San Francisco, Calif.; and Peter Earle from the Law Office of Peter Earl in Milwaukee, Wis.—assisted by local government attorneys Greta Hansen and Danny Chou of the County of Santa Clara, Rebecca Archer of San Mateo County, Dennis Bunting of Solano County, Paul Prather of San Diego, Erin Bernstein and Owen Clements of San Francisco, and Robert Ragland and Andrea Ross of Los Angeles County nominated for Public Justice’s Trial Lawyer of the Year Award. In addition to the nomination, the team was named 2014 Trial Lawyer of the Year.

This video was one of five that I produced for Public Justice this past summer as a team member at Rich Tolsma Productions. Thanks to John Nolan at Rich Tolsma Productions for the nice title and lower third graphics. And thanks to Louis Peluyera at Rich Tolsma Productions for interviewing the attorneys in San Francisco, while I was in Seattle working on another video for the same project.