Sherwin-Williams wins appeals of lead paint case

By Jack Elliot Jr./The Associated Press

JACKSON — The Mississippi Supreme Court on Thursday threw out a $7 million verdict against the Sherwin-Williams Co., which had argued it was not liable for the illnesses of a boy who might have eaten lead-contaminated paint chips.

A Jefferson County jury in 2009 awarded the damages in the lawsuit filed on behalf of Trellvion Gaines and his mother, Shermeker Pollard of Fayette. The Supreme Court said the testimony from plaintiffs’ experts was unreliable and inadmissible.

In writing for the court, Justice Randy Pierce said the trial judge erred in not issuing a verdict for Sherwin-Williams.

The family claimed Trellvion ingested possibly toxic lead paint chips while staying in the house where his grandmother, Doris Gaines, had lived since the 1970s.

Court documents show Gaines testified that during a painting project in the early 1990s, when Trellvion was an infant, that she saw him eating paint chips that were “swept to the side.” The family contended that in September 1993, blood tests confirmed Trellvion had been exposed to lead.

Sherwin-Williams argued that was the only evidence to suggest Trellvion Gaines ingested anything. The company 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.

The company said the family failed to provide sufficient proof that the boy ate lead paint, whether any was manufactured by Sherwin-Williams or that his illnesses were caused by eating paint.

The Supreme Court agreed, going further to say that experts brought by the Gaines’ family gave conflicting information to the jury.

Because of the experts’ “speculation that Trellvion had been ingesting lead throughout his entire residence at the home was unreliable and, therefore, inadmissible, and because the plaintiff’s experts did not present any scientific authority that an acute, asymptomatic ingestion of lead could lead to the alleged injuries, the plaintiff did not offer sufficient proof of causation,” Pierce said.

The family contended 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 paint was banned in the U.S. in 1978, but can be found in some older homes.

Doris Gaines testified she and another person painted the house four times between 1974 and 1994, according to court documents.

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 unleaded paint could be applied.