Trial Lawyers’ Self-Serving Lead Paint “Remedy”

There are a lot of problems, ethically, legally, and constitutionally, with a state attorney general hiring trial lawyers to sue on behalf of the state on a contingency fee.

One of the biggest problems is that hiring those lawyers on a contingency fee gives them a perverse incentive to make the most expensive demands possible, in order to maximize their fees, rather than to seek a remedy that most benefits the public.

The Rhode Island lead paint case is an object lesson in this. The trial lawyers representing the state of Rhode Island, who are the biggest campaign contributors in that state, got a trial judge to declare the presence of lead paint in Rhode Island homes and buildings a “public nuisance.” The paint companies were held liable in this nuisance suit, even though they only sold lead paint back when it was legal to do so, and some of the companies held liable were not even proven to have manufactured any of the lead paint currently present in Rhode Island buildings.

The Providence Journal column on September 28 described the incredibly costly demands that the trial lawyers hired by Rhode Island’s attorney general are now making, which would cost untold billions of dollars and could involve homeowners being displaced from their homes to eliminate intact lead paint that poses no health risks.

CEI’s study of The Nation’s Top Ten Worst State Attorneys General describes the many harms caused by state attorneys general hiring their trial lawyer cronies on contingency fee.

Former Nebraska Attorney General Don Stenberg recently spoke about this topic to the Federalist Society at the National Press Club.