Considering I’m currently in an environmental law course, I thought I’d write about something relevant: Victims of Hurricane Katrina are seeking to sue greenhouse gas-emitting multinationals for helping fuel global warming and boosting the storm. In my mind, suing multinationals for making the coffee hot that you then poured onto your genitals constitutes de minimis non curat lax, meaning “the court will not be concerned with trifles.” However, neither global warming nor the death of over 1,200 people seems a trifle to me.
This class action suit was brought by residents from southern Mississippi weeks after the storm hit in August 2005. The plaintiffs allege that defendants' operation of energy, fossil fuels, and chemical industries in the U.S. caused the emission of greenhouse gasses that contributed to global warming. They say the increase in global surface air and water temperatures “in turn caused a rise in sea levels and added to the ferocity of Hurricane Katrina, which combined to destroy the plaintiffs' private property, as well as public property useful to them.”
They allege that companies had a duty to "avoid unreasonably endangering the environment, public health, public and private property." Can you imagine the world we would live in if companies actually lived up to this duty?
Considering who these people are up against for compensation and punitive damages—Shell, ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron, Honeywell, and American Electric Power—they seem to actually be managing well so far. The suit has already passed several key legal hurdles, after initially being rejected by the district court, which argued that Congress first had to enact legislation "which sets appropriate standards by which this court can measure conduct." (Clearly Congress must do this, but whether that needs to occur before this case can proceed seems arguable.)
With cases such as these, there are likely not precedents off of which courts can rule by analogy, as they typically do. Because of the nature of climate change, however, it seems high time that the court take it upon itself to create such a precedent, as I can only envision such cases—and such storms—becoming more and more frequent.
Source: Katrina victims seek to sue greenhouse-gas emitters