Trial Lawyers Are Behind The Latest Climate Lawsuit Against Big Oil — For A Fee, Of Course


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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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The latest climate lawsuit filed against major oil companies by a local government is, once again, being handled by the plaintiff’s firm behind similar lawsuits in California and New York City.

Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP will be handling King County, Washington’s lawsuit against five major oil companies over alleged damages wrought by man-made global warming. Hagens Berman is also behind climate lawsuits brought by San Francisco, Oakland and New York City.

Hagens Berman is working for King County, which includes Seattle, on a contingency fee basis, meaning they shoulder the upfront costs of litigation for a percentage of any winnings. King County spokesman Alex Fryer said Hagens Berman’s fee was 17 percent.

King County is suing five oil companies for an abatement fund to mitigate future global warming. The county’s press release on the lawsuit, filed Wednesday, claims “this abatement fund could be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.”

That’s a nice payday for Hagens Berman should they prevail in court. The plaintiff’s firm stands to earn billions of dollars from its climate lawsuits with San Francisco, Oakland and New York City.

Hagens Berman’s fee is 23.5 percent of any winnings from its cases with San Francisco and Oakland. As of March, New York City had yet to negotiate its fee with Hagens Berman, but the city’s suit claims the “cost of needed resiliency projects runs to many billions of dollars.”

However, Hagens Berman is only one of about three plaintiffs firms suing fossil fuel companies over global warming, hoping to resurrect their success in litigating against the tobacco industry in the 1990s.

The firm Seeger Weiss LLP is also handling New York City’s lawsuit, and the firm Sher Edling LLP is handling climates lawsuits for six California cities and counties. These firms are also working for a percentage of any winnings.

Local governments suing fossil fuel interests argue state nuisance and trespassing laws, which have sometimes been applied to pollution, also apply to global warming. They also accuse energy companies of trying to downplay the harms their products allegedly cause.

King County’s claims builds on reporting from the liberal InsideClimate News and Columbia University purporting to show Exxon had been studying climate science for decades, internally worried about it but publicly funding groups opposed to climate regulations.

“Big Oil spent many decades disregarding and dismissing what is our most pressing generational challenge,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine said in a statement.

“We must hold these companies accountable as we marshal our resources to protect and preserve what makes this region great,” Constantine said.

The reports led to the “Exxon Knew” campaign. Environmentalists targeted the company for investigation by state prosecutors, the first of whom to take up the mantle is now disgraced former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

At a hearing, Alsup said plaintiffs’ presentation on a global warming cover-up “shows nothing of the sort,” according to journalists present.

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