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The Continuing Climate Change Litigation: 2020 and Beyond

Nov 18, 2019

The pot continues to bubble on climate change litigation, as a variety of lawsuits seek to bring the powerhouses of the oil and gas industry to task for climate change / environmental damages.

Of particular importance, the continuing allegations that these multi-national oil companies have known for years -- and intentionally withheld confirmation -- of the harmful impact of their operations on global climate and the resulting environmental harm. (For more, read our prior discussion in “Climate Change: Did Exxon-Mobil Intentionally Keep Two Sets of Financials in Order to Maximize Its Profits?”)

Growing Number of Climate Change Lawsuits

A good synopsis of this week’s climate change litigation status appears in an article entitled “Exxon’s Climate Trial Is Over, But the Legal War Is Just Beginning,” written by Erik Larson and published by Bloomberg on November 13, 2019.

In the piece, Mr. Larson provides a good overview of the many government-as-plaintiff lawsuits based upon “public nuisance” causes of action that have been, or are soon to be filed, against Exxon-Mobil and other energy companies for what he describes as “…a looming planetary catastrophe.”

Climate change lawsuits against various oil and gas corporations are being brought by states (New York and Massachusetts, for example) as well as municipalities (cities in California, Colorado, Maryland, New York, and Washington) and environmental groups.

Each of these governmental suits will seek damages in the form of recouping past, present, and future taxpayer money that has been and will be (in Lawson’s words) “… spent on acclimating to a warming world, or picking up the pieces following unprecedented hurricanes, floods and wildfires.”

And, as Bloomberg’s Mr. Lawson points out, the outcome of New York’s current Exxon-Mobil litigation will not stop this juggernaut.

October 2019: SCOTUS Denies Stay of Climate Change Lawsuits

Consider SCOTUS’s October 22, 2019 ruling in BP P.L.C., et al., v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, where three states (Colorado, Maryland, and Rhode Island) are given the High Court’s approval to move forward with their climate change litigation.

It’s telling. SCOTUS heard and rejected the arguments of the energy industry (including Exxon-Mobil, Shell Oil, Citgo, ConocoPhillips, and Marathon Oil) to block a climate change lawsuit brought by Baltimore, Maryland, in which the city is suing for environmental damages.

You can read their failed arguments in the Application for Stay. Specifically, SCOTUS allowed the following eight causes of action to proceed against the energy defendants:

  1. Public Nuisance;
  2. Private Nuisance;
  3. Strict Liability Failure to Warn;
  4. Strict Liability for Design Defect;
  5. Negligent Design Defect;
  6. Negligent Failure to Warn;
  7. Trespass; and
  8. Consumer Protection Act.

For more details, including the lower court decisions here and other SCOTUS climate change stay rulings, check out the New York Times article written by Adam Liptak and published on October 22, 2019, entitled “Supreme Court Lets Climate Change Lawsuit Proceed.”

OUR VIEWPOINT ON CLIMATE CHANGE LITIGATION AGAINST ENERGY CORPORATIONS

Since 2002, our law firm has contended with the attitudes and tactics of huge, multi-national companies intent on maintaining their status as global industry leaders recognized for maximizing revenues and achieving billions of dollars in annual profits.

Time and again, as we face off in a courtroom or at a settlement table, we have been shocked at a corporate myopia focused upon making money and the annual report’s bottom line, no matter the cost.

WRDB understands well how important money can be to these huge corporate giants. We have achieved the rare distinction of having four nine-figure jury megaverdict courtroom victories against major corporate defendants.

Specifically, our law firm has represented injury victims pursuing justice against major energy companies, both in personal injury/death claims involving oil field accidents as well as contamination injuries and harm to the environment.

Our viewpoint at this point in time is that climate change lawsuits will proceed, with an even greater variety of plaintiffs filing claims for the obvious environmental harm that has been sustained because of climate change caused by the activities of the energy industry.

We’re also expecting greater and greater revelations of intentional misconduct and wrongdoing in efforts to hide or otherwise discredit or discount climate change realities by these defendants.

We predict there will be head-shaking “smoking guns” in future climate change discovery revelations, which we suggest will be even more shocking and enraging than those revelations of the Big Tobacco litigation of a few years back.