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Sherwin-Williams ordered to pay massive fine for promoting lead paint in century-old ads

Paint behemoth Sherwin-Williams is fighting back against the State of California, after being ordered to pay hundreds of millions for selling lead paint to residential consumers decades ago. (Image source: YouTube screenshot)

Paint company Sherwin-Williams is fighting a California court ruling that ordered the firm to pay up big bucks for advertising lead paint products in the past.

One of the ads cited in court documents was from 1904, sparking alarm for businesses and marketing experts about how long (and how much) firms can be held liable for product dangers before hazards are confirmed.

What are the details?

The People of the State of California v. Atlantic Richfield Co., et al. is aimed at forcing current and former paint manufacturers to pay for a fund used to clean up California homes containing lead paint. It has been a court battle in some form for 18 years, the Los Angeles Times reported, seeking damages from the defendants for alleged “public nuisance” violations, rather than on the grounds of product liability.

The Wall Street Journal reported that in 2014, a California trial court found Sherwin-Williams, ConAgra Grocery Products Co. and NL Industries Inc. jointly liable for the cost of cleaning lead paint out of California homes. The firms were ordered to pay $1.15 billion. Two other defendants — Atlantic Richfield Company and DuPont — were not found liable.

An appeals court ruled that the three companies found liable should only be held responsible for the use of interior lead paint prior to 1950, because there was “insufficient evidence” that they had promoted its use after that year.

While the appeals court reduced the companies’ liability in the case, it still maintained that the defendants bear some responsibility. In its decision the court pointed to a Sherwin-Williams paint ad from 1904 that promoted the brand, stating “Put S.W.P. on your house and you will get satisfaction and save money every time.

“The Sherwin-Williams Paint, Pre-pared, (S.W.P.) for painting buildings, outside and inside, costs just as much as good paint ought to cost – if you pay more you pay too much, if you pay less you won’t get as good paint. Made in 48 good shades: also black and white.”

Now what?

The defendants have petitioned for the U.S. Supreme Court to hear their case, arguing that they shouldn’t be held liable for damage from products marketed prior to their health risks being known.

Sherwin-Williams attorney Antonio Dias told the Times last year, “This is litigation by hindsight. You’re applying today’s standards as if they existed in the early 1900s.”

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