Local Government
Commentary: Public Nuisance Litigation is a Nuisance

Commentary: Public Nuisance Litigation is a Nuisance

By Dorothy Rothrock – President, California Manufacturers & Technology Association.

Manufacturers who make the products we choose to buy are becoming targets for litigation under the theory that they’ve created a “public nuisance,” by harming the morals, safety, or health of the community. Thankfully, these types of lawsuits usually fail because the judicial system is reluctant to hold companies responsible for impacts that were unknown at the time of sale or beyond their control.

Nevertheless, the public nuisance litigation will continue because trial lawyers will push every possible theory to earn a big payday. Blaming them for doing what comes naturally, even if it is frivolous and costly litigation, won’t change their behavior.  Instead, we should hold our courts and legislators responsible.  Our elected officials should stop abusive public nuisance abusive litigation and step in with a better solution for their constituents.

In California, we have reached this point in the lead-paint litigation.  While the court of appeal did not correctly decide that the litigation should stop, the California Legislature can and should take action – giving Californians a voice in this process.

The lead-paint lawsuit claims to fix the problem of lead paint in homes, but it is nothing more than a dark cloud over California’s housing market.  Because homes built prior to 1981 are believed to contain some amount of lead paint, the court found that pre-1981 homes with old lead paint are a public nuisance unless inspected and, if necessary, fixed pursuant to the court’s order. Residents may be forced from their homes until the paint is removed.

If an alternative is not adopted, the ruling has far-reaching consequences that may collectively worsen the state’s housing crisis – and we know that California homeowners will be frightened after they discover the impacts to their home values and pocketbooks.

A strong housing market is a crucial component of a healthy economy. Manufacturers are having difficulty finding skilled workers who can afford to live within striking distance of work – and this disastrous lead paint court ruling will only make the situation worse.

To close California’s housing gap, rather than make it more difficult to buy or own a home in our state as a result of this litigation, our elected officials need to look for ways to make homeownership more attainable.

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