Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Tort Cases -- What Happens When Regulation Is Absent Or Doesn't Work

From the December 25, 2006 edition of Inside Energy:

[G]reenhouse-gas-emitting power companies must be held legally responsible for fueling global warming and the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina, according to papers filed recently in a federal court in Mississippi.

The 11-page motion, filed December 14 in the U.S. District Court in Jackson is the latest salvo in a novel lawsuit brought by Ned Comber and other people who own property that was damaged when Hurricane Katrina roared ashore on August 29, 2005.

Comber and other plaintiffs maintain that [companies that generate electricity] bolstered Katrina's destructiveness by pumping millions of tons of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases into the environment. These emissions warmed the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and caused Katrina to grow larger and more destructive than it otherwise would have, the plaintiffs maintain.

Comber and his colleagues are seeking millions of dollars in compensatory and punitive damages from the energy companies. In all, some 21 electric utilities and numerous oil and coal companies are named as defendants in the suit, which is referred to in some legal circles as the "Katrina case."

. . .

The Katrina case is one of several global-warming-related lawsuits targeting power companies and other greenhouse-gas-emitting industries. In another closely-watched case, a group of states led by Connecticut is seeking to force . . . large utilities to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions on the grounds that they are a "public nuisance" that is fostering global warming. A ruling in that case, which is lodged in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in New York, could come any day. ~Brian Hansen

It's been too long since I took Torts to remember how liable you can be for helping to cause the situation that led to someone's damages. The defendants argue that everyone pollutes so that, if they're liable, so is the dad firing up the grill or the mom driving the SUV to take the kids to soccer. The danger here is that the Katrina case or the nuisance case in the Second Circuit may result in bad precedent.

Hopefully not. But I don't view either of these fora as particularly favorable.


cardamom said...

Well, then, perhaps alternative cooking and travelling methods would be developed. Grill-Dad and SUV-Mom should be responsible for the consequences of the GHG they generate, as should we all. If those GHG emissions from grills and SUVs were purple stink clouds that clung to whatever they touched, you bet the neighbors would be raising cane about it, and rightfully so. If the feds won't regulate GHG emissions, then what remedy other than the courts do we have to recreate the petrol economy?

sopka said...

please sue the Hummer people and anyone that has anything to do with them except dismantling the monsters.