The Sherwin-Williams Company, getting its day in court in an appeal of a $7 million judgment in a lead-paint lawsuit in Mississippi, contended that no real evidence exists connecting the company to lead poisoning alleged in the case.
An attorney for Sherwin-Williams last week told the Mississippi Supreme Court that the company is not liable for the disabilities of a Mississippi boy who might have eaten lead-contaminated paint chips. A Jefferson County jury in 2009 awarded $7 million in damages in the lawsuit filed on behalf of Trellvion Gaines and his mother, Shermeker Pollard of Fayette.
The suit was filed in 2000 in Jefferson County Circuit Court when Trellvion was 9. A trial judge ruled in favor of the Cleveland-based paint manufacturer in 2003. The Mississippi Supreme Court overturned the decision in 2007 and ordered a new trial.
The family claimed Trellvion ingested lead paint chips while staying in the house where his grandmother, Doris Gaines, had lived since the 1970s.
Gaines testified that during a painting project in the early 1990s, when Trellvion was an infant, she saw him eating paint chips that were “swept to the side” during the scraping and repainting project. The family said that in September 1993, blood tests confirmed Trellvion had been exposed to lead.
W. Wayne Drinkwater Jr., Sherwin-Williams' attorney in the case, told the Supreme Court last week that was the only evidence to suggest Trellvion Gaines ingested anything, according to news reports on the hearing. Drinkwater said Doris Gaines did not testify what color the chips were or what brand of paint it was-nothing on which the jury could conclude Sherwin-Williams was responsible.
Evidence on Source of Paint Doubted
He said the family failed to provide sufficient proof that the boy ingested lead paint, ate any paint manufactured by Sherwin-Williams, or that his illnesses were caused by eating paint.
The family's attorney, Tim Porter, told the court that witnesses testified at trial that they saw Sherwin-Williams paint being applied to the house at a time when lead paint was the only type available. Porter said there was other testimony that Sherwin-Williams lead paint could be bought locally even after the company had stopped making it.
Lead-based paint was banned in the U.S. in 1978, but continues to present a hazard in homes built prior to that.
Doris Gaines testified she and another person painted the house four times between 1974 and 1994, according to news reports on the case.
The lawsuit claimed Trellvion was exposed to lead dust and chips from sanding, scraping and other steps required to remove the lead paint from the house before new, non-lead-based paint could be applied.
But Drinkwater asked, “What evidence is there that this plaintiff ingested Sherwin-Williams lead paint?”
The lawsuit alleged Trellvion's brain damage became evident in the first grade. His attorneys said he still reads only at a second- or third-grade level and shows other signs of cognitive delays.
Porter, the attorney for the plaintiff, argued that testimony in the case showed that “once lead paint gets into the blood, it can clear the blood much quicker than it clears the brain.” He added. “If you put a child in a lead environment, he's being exposed daily on a minimum basis just because of the normal wear on the house.”
Porter said Sherwin-Williams paint was the only paint that was known to be on the house and it showed up in tests.
Drinkwater said there was no dispute that Trellvion, who was born in 1991, has a low IQ. “The question is about what caused it. There are a litany of things that could count for a low IQ. The plaintiffs' experts looked at none of them,” he said.
Mike Conway, a spokesman for Sherwin-Williams, said the company had no comment in addition to the statements made by Drinkwater.