Skipworth v. Lead Industries Association

690 A.2d 169 (Pa. 1997)

Quick Summary

Quick Summary Icon

Dominique Skipworth (plaintiff) suffered from lead poisoning due to exposure in her home. Her guardian Pandora Williams (plaintiff) and her mother Ernestine Richardson (plaintiff) sued all known manufacturers of lead paint between 1807 and 1977, including Lead Industries Association (defendant), under various theories of collective liability.

The dispute centered on whether these manufacturers could be held liable under market share liability or other collective liability theories without identifying which specific manufacturer’s product caused Skipworth’s injuries. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania concluded that these theories were not applicable and affirmed the lower courts’ decisions granting summary judgment in favor of the defendants.

Facts of the Case

Facts of the case Icon

Dominique Skipworth (plaintiff) experienced multiple hospitalizations due to lead poisoning during her early childhood. The home where she resided, leased by her guardian Pandora Williams (plaintiff), was built approximately in the year 1870 and was found to contain lead-based paint. The specific manufacturer of the lead paint in her home, however, could not be determined, nor could the time it was applied or sold be identified.

Pandora Williams, along with Ernestine Richardson, Skipworth’s mother and co-legal guardian (plaintiff), initiated a lawsuit against all known producers of lead paint spanning from 1807 to 1977, the period when lead paint was in production, which included the Lead Industries Association (defendant).

The case brought forth claims under various collective liability theories, including market share liability, alternate liability, conspiracy, and concert of action. The plaintiffs faced a significant challenge as they could not point to any specific entity responsible for the lead poisoning due to the inability to identify the lead paint manufacturer(s) involved.

Procedural Posture and History

History Icon
  1. Plaintiffs filed suit against numerous lead paint manufacturers and the Lead Industries Association.
  2. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants.
  3. The Superior Court affirmed the trial court’s decision.
  4. Plaintiffs appealed to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

I.R.A.C. Format


Issue Icon
  • Whether the market share liability theory should be adopted?
  • Whether the alternative theories of collective liability, such as alternate liability, conspiracy, and concert of action, are applicable when the specific manufacturer of a harmful product cannot be identified.

Rule of Law

Rule Icon

Under Pennsylvania law, a plaintiff must establish that a defendant’s negligence was the proximate cause of their injuries to recover damages. Market share liability, which allows for liability to be apportioned among manufacturers based on their market share when the specific producer of a harmful product cannot be identified, represents a significant departure from this traditional rule of causation.

Reasoning and Analysis

Reasoning Icon

The court reasoned that adopting market share liability in lead paint cases would unfairly distort liability due to two primary factors: the extensive time period involved and the non-fungibility of lead paint compared to drugs like DES. Over a hundred years, many manufacturers entered and exited the market, making it impossible to accurately determine their respective market shares or establish that all named defendants were potential tortfeasors.

Furthermore, because lead paints varied in composition and toxicity, they were not interchangeable like DES pills. This diversity meant that imposing liability based on market share would not reflect each manufacturer’s actual contribution to any harm caused. Consequently, the court declined to adopt the market share liability theory for this case.

Regarding alternative theories of collective liability, such as alternate liability, conspiracy, and concert of action, the court found them inapplicable because the plaintiffs failed to join all potential tortfeasors and could not demonstrate that the defendants acted in concert with intent to harm or that any concerted action led to Skipworth’s injuries.


Conclusion Icon

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania affirmed the Superior Court’s decision, holding that market share liability and other theories of collective liability did not apply in this case.

Key Takeaways

Takeaway Icon
  1. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania does not recognize market share liability as an appropriate theory in lead poisoning cases due to issues with determining accurate market shares and non-fungible nature of lead paints.
  2. Alternative theories of collective liability such as alternate liability, conspiracy, and concert of action require evidence that defendants acted in concert and that all potential tortfeasors are joined in the lawsuit, which was not demonstrated in this case.

Relevant FAQs of this case

What challenges does a plaintiff face in proving causation in cases involving multiple potential tortfeasors?

In instances with multiple potential tortfeasors, plaintiffs face the challenge of specifically identifying which party’s actions were the proximate cause of their injury. Proving causation can become complex, especially when the harm could have resulted from the conduct of any one or more parties. Plaintiffs must often rely on evidence that can effectively link the injury to a specific tortfeasor’s action or product, a task made difficult when the marketplace consists of several actors with similar contributions.

  • For example: A patient who was prescribed a generically manufactured drug by multiple companies suffers adverse effects, and they must show which company’s specific drug caused the harm amidst numerous possibilities.

How does the diversity of product composition impact the application of market share liability?

Diversity in product composition significantly affects the application of market share liability. When products are non-fungible and vary in their makeup – including variations in formula, design, strength, or toxicity – attributing equal culpability to all manufacturers is problematic. Market share liability usually requires fungibility wherein each manufacturer’s product is essentially identical and thus interchangeable, leading to an equitable attribution of liability according to market share.

  • For example: In cases involving asbestos exposure, where multiple types and brands exist with varying degrees of risk, assigning liability based on market share would inadequately address the differences in each product’s hazard levels.

In what situations might alternate liability theories be unsuitable for establishing tort responsibility?

Alternate liability theories are unsuitable when the plaintiff cannot prove that all potential tortfeasors are before the court or when there is no reasonable basis to determine that a defendant’s action was more likely than not to have caused the harm. Superior knowledge by defendants or their control over evidence may also influence the applicability of these theories. Additionally, these theories hinge on showing some level of joint action or commonality between the defendants which may be absent.

  • For example: In an environmental case where residents sue for chemical dumping, alternate liability would be ineffective if there are several unidentified companies that could have polluted, with no clear nexus between their disposal practices and the specific harm suffered by residents.


Last updated

Was this case brief helpful?

More Case Briefs in Torts