When companies get in trouble over their advertisements, it usually happens quickly. In the case of Sherwin-Williams Co., it took more than a century.
The paint maker is fighting a California court ruling that ordered it and two other companies to collectively pay hundreds of millions of dollars in damages for promoting lead paint over several decades, when they allegedly knew or should have known it was hazardous. The litigation has highlighted Sherwin-Williams ads dating back to 1904.
Sherwin-Williams SHW, -0.14% and its co-defendants in July petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case, arguing that they were unaware of the health risks of lead before it became accepted science and are being improperly punished for truthful advertising about a product that was legal at the time. The federal government banned the use of lead paint in homes in 1978.
Companies already put their advertisements through a range of stress tests to ensure legal and regulatory compliance, adding careful wording and disclosures. But some advertising executives say the Sherwin-Williams ruling, if upheld, would raise the stakes, forcing marketers to consider whether advertising a product may open them to liability many years down the road.
An expanded version of this report appears on WSJ.com.
Also popular on WSJ.com:
Sherwin-Williams lands in trouble over 114-year-old paint ad.
Trump says ‘Canada will be out’ without ‘fair deal’ on Nafta.