- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 24, 2002

BALTIMORE (AP) Two lawsuits filed by lawyer Peter G. Angelos that sought to hold some of the United States' best-known paint-makers liable for injuries caused by old lead-based paint have all but died in the city's Circuit Court.
Three years ago, the lawsuits accused the manufacturers of conspiring during the 1940s and 1950s to cover up the dangers of their products, which have been linked to brain dysfunction in children.
But Judge Joseph P. McCurdy Jr. ruled that "voluminous" documents produced by the Angelos firm to prove that the companies acted together to suppress information about the hazards of lead paint "fail to raise any material facts supporting a conspiracy."
"Quite to the contrary," Judge McCurdy held in an opinion published Nov. 15, the companies paid major U.S. universities to research the toxicity of their paint in the 1950s so they could "give the most accurate information to the consumer public" about the hazards and safe use of their products.
The conspiracy charge was at the heart of two lawsuits that Mr. Angelos filed in 1999, and it remains a central issue in dozens of lawsuits nationwide.
Rhode Island; San Francisco; St. Louis; Milwaukee; Newark, N.J.; several counties in California and Texas; school districts in Texas and Mississippi; the New York City Housing Authority; and scores of individual plaintiffs have sued the industry.
The Rhode Island suit recently ended in a hung jury, with state officials vowing to reassert their charges in a new suit.
If proven, the conspiracy assertion could make manufacturers jointly liable for billions of dollars in cleanup and special-education costs, and personal injuries, whether or not plaintiffs can prove which company made the paint that harmed them.
In the first Angelos suit, he sought $15 million in damages for each of six children diagnosed with mental and behavioral disorders linked to their exposure to lead paint dust and chips in Baltimore homes.
The ruling Nov. 15 effectively quashed the assertions of one of the plaintiffs: a 9-year-old East Baltimore boy poisoned in a rental house in 1995.
It also means the remaining plaintiffs must meet the burden of proving which company made the toxic paint that poisoned them.
Ron Richardson, an attorney for the Angelos firm, said he would "have no comment while the litigation is pending," adding that the plaintiffs were considering whether to appeal the judge's ruling.
A second suit Mr. Angelos filed against the paint companies on behalf of about 1 million Maryland homeowners said lead paint has reduced their property values and sought millions of dollars in cleanup costs.
That case was dismissed by Judge McCurdy in December on grounds that even if Mr. Angelos could prove that the paint companies lied about the safety of their products, the lawyer had not shown that the homeowners had relied on false advertising when they bought their houses.
In fact, Judge McCurdy found, the hazards of deteriorating lead paint have been well publicized and widely known to the general public for decades, and that Maryland law requires homeowners to prove that they were duped by the companies into believing lead paint was safe.
Banned by Congress in 1978, lead paint had been largely withdrawn from the market.


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