Tik Root | Mother Jones | Graphic: Selman Design
In 1998, Fidelma Fitzpatrick, a young associate at the Motley Rice law firm, was wrapping up her work on the groundbreaking $246 billion national tobacco settlement when a new case landed on her desk. The state of Rhode Island—which had a disproportionate number of children with elevated blood lead levels—wanted her firm’s help suing the paint industry.
So began a decadeslong legal battle to hold paint manufacturers accountable for cleaning up old houses still coated in toxins. Fitzpatrick played a key role in the Rhode Island case and now spearheads her firm’s involvement in similar litigation. And the argument she proposed using to take on the paint companies is being applied to a widening array of state and local public health lawsuits—especially important given the Trump administration’s apparent reluctance to regulate industries.