Watch for the coming flood of global warming litigation

0 Comments – July 31, 2007

This is terrible!

For those of you that are not from the US, you should first understand that the US is a society that loves to sue. There are all sorts of ridiculous stories on spurious litigation (hot coffee is the one that never fails to get a laugh for comedians). Much of the cost of our products (especially medicine) is blamed on companies reserving huge sums of cash to cover legal fees.

Now to think that lawyers will sue due to CO2 emissions or other global warming grievances is terrible. Companies should not be blamed for following standard industry practices unless they did so with full knowledge that the use would significantly affect the users. Or, as with asbestos, there is a clearly defined link between the actions of a company and its placement among the victims. Neither situation would be true for carbon dioxide emissions.

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that the climate change phenomenon commonly called “global warming” exists and is being caused, at least in part, by human activity. Who is responsible? The only sensible answer is, everybody. We all contribute to the release of greenhouse gasses, as did our ancestors going back at least to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

One would therefore think litigation is no more an appropriate response to global warming than litigation would be to any so-called “act of god.” One would be wrong.

Indeed, trial lawyers are gearing up to turn global warming into their next pot of gold. A coalition of environmental groups and cities are suing the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the Export-Import Bank of the United States for making loans to finance oil pipelines, oil drilling, and similar projects that supposedly result in a net emission of billions of tons of carbon dioxide.

Last year, Business Week reported that there were 16 pending global warming cases of these sorts pending around the country.

How can one firm?or even one industry?be blamed for a global phenomenon that took decades to arise? Making causality findings and apportioning responsibility in this context is ludicrous. Yet, what might a New Orleans jury still smarting over Katrina do if they got the chance to decide Mapes and Porter’s suit?

Tort costs were $880 per U.S. citizen in 2005, meaning the average American family of four paid a ‘litigation tax’ of more than $3,500 due to increased costs from lawsuits and other liability expenses that force businesses to raise the price of products and services. That cost is equivalent to nearly an 8 percent tax on wages.

Read the rest of the article here.

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