MILWAUKEE — The city of Milwaukee filed suit against Mautz Paint Co. of Madison, WI, and NL Industries Inc., seeking compensation to pay for the cost of cleaning up old lead-based paint hazards. Lawyers representing the city said the suit was filed against just two defendants in an effort to simplify the case and move the suit more quickly through pretrial procedures.
Responding to the suit, Mautz Paint Co. President Daniel Drury issued a prepared statement saying the company could not comment on the "specifics or merits" of the city's suit. But Drury said the company has "always manufactured our products in full compliance with the laws then in effect and to the highest of industry standards. We are confident once the facts are exposed, the appropriateness of the company's action and our concern for the public health will become clear." Drury said Mautz would "vigorously defend ourselves against this effort and continue to focus our energies on our products, our employees and our communities."
Mautz is a regional manufacturer of architectural paint, and operates 34 paint and decorating stores in Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, and Indiana. The company, which began manufacturing paint in 1925, also distributes products through dealers in eight Midwestern states.
The filing of the suit follows a lengthy and contentious debate among members of the city's governing body, the Common Council, which late last year voted 11-6 to file the suit. Even the city attorney has been quoted in the local media as saying the city's chance of winning such a suit is only "50-50."
An attorney representing NL Industries, Don Scott of Denver, was quoted as saying he had not seen the lawsuit but suggested that the city might have filed it to deflect attention from its own efforts to address lead-paint problems. "It's a waste of money, theirs and ours," he told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
The suit is aimed at attempting to force the companies to pay for the cleanup of old lead-based paint in Milwaukee homes. According to the Journal-Sentinel, the price tag could easily top $100 million, with at least 40,000 homes considered most at risk. A group named Wisconsin Citizen Action, which wants all homes with at least some lead-based paint to be cleaned up, estimates the costs at closer to $400 million.
Advocates of the legal action say Wisconsin law is more favorable than most other states for plaintiffs in such cases, due to the existence of a provision that allows companies to be sued as a group without having to determine which company is responsible for the hazards in individual homes.