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Could a lead paint lawsuit eventually affect climate change?

Product liability lawsuits do more than reward people who claimed damages after they were hurt or sickened by something on the market. They can protect other people from the same fate, and they can stop companies from making dangerous mistakes. One recent case may even help make a statement about climate change.

What is the case at hand?

It is a 2000 lawsuit in which 10 California communities brought paint manufacturers to task over paint containing toxic lead that was marketed as safe for consumers. They argued the paint companies had created a public nuisance through their product due to lead contamination in soil, water and elsewhere through paint chips. A judge in Santa Clara County ruled in favor of the communities more than a decade later to the tune of more than $400 million, and the defendants' appeals have been declined.

How may this case affect climate change?

A similar group of cities and municipalities in the Golden State are preparing a case against fossil fuel producers along similar lines. Much like the paint companies, the fuel producers are claiming a judgment unfairly holds them accountable for aggressive advertising efforts decades in the past and violates the free speech used in advertising. Fossil fuel companies use the same "free speech" arguments to justify their position on climate change, claiming the right to their "opinions." The precedent helps plaintiffs get around this argument.

What has the effect of this case been so far?

This year has seen around 80 public nuisance lawsuits brought against commodity and product marketers along similar lines by other communities and groups. Liability claims may change company approaches to marketing as well as make them more sensitive about the overall quality and safety of the products they promote.

What if I have been injured or sickened by a product?

Individuals sickened or hurt by dangerous or defective products that were marketed as "safe" may have a similar case for redress. An attorney can help review the facts and determine the strength of a potential claim.

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