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Oil companies sued for hurricane damage

October 20, 2009
A court ruling from the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans may open the floodgates for lawsuits against oil and gas producers.

The court, often regarded as one of the most conservative circuit courts in the country, will allow the "litigation equivalent of 'Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon'" to move forward in a lawsuit claiming oil and coal producers contributed to global warming.

From the Wall Street Journal's Law Blog:

The suit was brought by landowners in Mississippi, who claim that oil and coal companies emitted greenhouse gasses that contributed to global warming that, in turn, caused a rise in sea levels, adding to Hurricane Katrina’s ferocity.

The central question before the Fifth Circuit was whether the plaintiffs had standing, or whether they could demonstrate that their injuries were “fairly traceable” to the defendant’s actions. The defendants predictably assert that the link is “too attenuated.”

But the Fifth Circuit held that at this preliminary stage in the litigation, the plaintiffs had sufficiently detailed their claims to earn a day in court.
In so holding, the court notably quoted a recent Supreme Court opinion that “accepted as plausible the link between man-made greenhouse gas emissions and global warming” along with the fact that “rising ocean temperatures may contribute to the ferocity of hurricanes.”

So what is the broader significance of the ruling? We checked in with Jackson for his take.At a minimum, he says, the ruling will invite more climate-change litigation in the future.

“With this decision,” he says, “you are now pretty well assured of seeing others file these kinds of claims.”
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