Mississippi Supreme Court Reverses Verdict for Lead Paint Victim Based on Experts’ Speculation – Sherwin-Williams v. Gaines

As a defective products lawyer in Missouri, I’m quite familiar with the issue of lead paint in older buildings. Before the 1970s, paint often contained lead as one ingredient. However, its use was banned because lead is a neurotoxin that can cause brain damage; the danger is particularly acute for young children, who may eat or suck on sweet-flavored lead paint chips and peelings, and remodelers who stir up dust. Lead poisoning is permanent and causes brain damage; neurological symptoms like delirium and hallucinations; and physical symptoms like anemia, hearing loss and stunted growth. Lead poisoning was the allegation made in Sherwin-Williams Co. v. Gaines, a Mississippi Supreme Court ruling sending Trellvion Gaines and his mother back to lower court for further evidence.
Gaines was born in 1991, making him 20 years old at the time of the ruling. Early in his life, he lived with his mother and grandparents in a home built in the early 1900s, but which burned in 1994. Blood tests in 1993, when Gaines was two, found elevated blood lead levels; at 20, he has significant cognitive problems that he claims are the result of lead poisoning. Witnesses for Gaines testified that they had painted the home with Sherwin-Williams lead paint; Sherwin-Williams replied that it had stopped manufacturing interior lead paint in 1954 and all residential lead paint in 1972. After this court reversed a summary judgment decision, a trial court heard the case and a jury awarded $7 million to Gaines. Sherwin-Williams appealed, arguing that Gaines used witnesses who were unreliable, prejudicial and disclosed in an untimely manner; it also claimed the jury pool was biased.
On appeal, the Mississippi Supreme Court focused on the issue of whether Gaines sufficiently proved that his injuries were caused by exposure to lead paint. Gaines had just two lead tests, five days apart, showing elevated blood lead levels; his experts opined that he had been exposed from birth to the 1994 burning of the home. Sherwin-Williams argued that Gaines had been exposed only once, which is not enough for lead poisoning to cause brain damage. The high court found the experts employed by Gaines unreliable, in part because they relied upon one another for their diagnoses and in part because they were self-contradictory in places. Because Gaines underwent only two blood lead tests, both in the same week in 1993, expert testimony saying he had been chronically exposed to lead was speculation. And because speculation is inadmissible, and the experts did not sufficiently prove the connection between lead exposure and mental problems, the court said their testimony should not have been admitted. Thus, the high court reversed the verdict and remanded on the issue of causation.
Cases like this are important for me as a southern Illinois product liability attorney, because lead paint is one of the most widespread dangers for children in the United States. Any home old enough could have lead paint, and parents don’t always realize the problem exists. Lead paint lawsuits are not as common as other product liability lawsuits, like defective toys or unsafe drugs, but they still affect families all over the United States. Like almost all product liability cases, poisoning of children from lead paint is tragic and completely unnecessary. The same child growing up in a different home could easily avoid lead poisoning and live up to his or her full potential, including mental potential as well as physical health. As a St. Louis personal injury lawyer, I always prefer to prevent harm — but if it happens anyway, I believe the at-fault people should be held legally responsible.


If you or someone you love was hurt by a defective product, don’t hesitate to call Carey, Danis & Lowe for help. We offer free, confidential case evaluations for all potential clients. To set one up, call 1-877-678-3400 toll-free or send us an email today.
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