Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge James Kleinberg found that Conagra Grocery Products Co., NL Industries Inc. and the Sherwin-Williams Co. marketed paint they knew was harmful to children.
Atlantic Richfield Co. and DuPont Co. were found not liable.
Kleinberg's verdict came after a five-week trial without a jury. The companies have 15 days to object to the ruling, which the judge labeled as "tentative."
"There is a clear and present danger that needs to be addressed," Kleinberg wrote in his 110-page decision. "The defendants sold lead paint with actual and constructive knowledge that it was harmful."
Lead-based paints were barred from the
The industry argued that it never deliberately sold a harmful product and that the old paint is no longer a significant public health risk. An appeal is expected.
Exposure to lead is linked to learning disabilities and other health problems, especially in children.
The case has taken 13 years to reach trial because of objections from the industry, but appeals courts have allowed it to proceed. It alleges the manufacturers knew of lead-paint dangers starting in the 1890s but still sold it to consumers without health warnings.
The industry has faced similar lawsuits across the country, winning most them.