Superior Court rules against couple who complained of 'fishy' paint odor

By Dee Thompson | Jul 3, 2017

HARRISBURG — A couple who allege that an interior paint product caused health issues has lost their appeal of the lower court ruling, which was in favor of Benjamin Moore & Co.

Daniel J. Spellman and Margaret Spellman filed suit, alleging that when they purchased the Benjamin Moore “Natura” paint product in 2010 and painted two walls with it, a “fishy” odor was emitted, representing a health hazard. 

According to the Superior Court's June 9 opinion, after the walls were painted in the family room of the Spellman home in 2010, the Spellmans called Benjamin Moore and complained of a “foul odor.” The company sent Dan Farinelli to investigate the odor. 

Farinelli visited the home three times in 2010 and could not detect the odor. Farinelli reportedly advised that the paint has a “curing” time of 30 days and that if they allowed that time to pass the odor might disappear. The Spellmans didn’t want to do that. Farinelli allegedly suggested they paint over the walls and seal them with a different product. They didn’t do that.

A chemist at Benjamin Moore advised the couple to paint a mixture of baking soda and water on the walls. In late January 2010, Farinelli applied the solution to the walls of the home. The Spellmans later complained the baking soda made the problem worse, and a short time later they permanently left their home. 

The Benjamin Moore “Natura” paint was advertised to contain no VOC’s (volatile organic compounds). Subsequent tests of the air in the Spellman’s home, ordered by the couple, revealed normal levels of VOCs in the air. They nonetheless declined to live in the home. They hired a Maryland company to subsequently test the air in the home and that company also found that the air was safe and breathable.  

Two-and-a-half years after the paint was applied, Daniel Spellman complained of hives, which he said were caused by exposure to the paint. A Virginia doctor he consulted couldn’t say the paint caused the issue.

“Mr. Spellman underwent an independent medical evaluation with an environmental and occupational physician in the course of trial preparation who found that neither husband nor wife had suffered an injury from Natura,” according to the court’s opinion,

Benjamin Moore received other complaints of a smell in its Natura paint, and subsequent tests revealed the source of the smell was canola oil. The company has allegedly removed the canola oil from the product.

On July 1, 2016, a judgment was entered in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, which ruled in favor of Benjamin Moore & Co.

The Superior Court of Pennsylvania agreed with the lower court.

“After careful review of the record and relevant case law, we conclude that the trial court accurately and thoroughly addressed the merits of [the] appellants’ issues on appeal," the superior court said in its opinion. "Accordingly, we affirm the trial court’s July 1, 2016 judgment.”

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Benjamin Moore & Co. Superior Court of Pennsylvania

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