REPORT: Trial Lawyers Are Shopping Around Cookie-Cutter Climate Lawsuits To Cities


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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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The latest global warming lawsuit filed against oil companies inadvertently reveals trial lawyers behind them are “shopping these lawsuits as an off-the-shelf deliverable,” according to a new report.

The group Energy In Depth (EID) reported on Wednesday claiming there’s evidence the plaintiffs firm Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP is shopping around cookie-cutter lawsuits to local governments, looking to cash in on global warming hysteria.

“The firm stands to make tens of billions of dollars in contingency fees should any of the plaintiffs find success in the courtroom,” wrote Spencer Walrath with EID, which is funded by the Independent Petroleum Association of America.

Hagens Berman is handling global warming lawsuits filed by San Francisco, Oakland, New York City and King County in Washington, which encompasses Seattle. Walrath went through complaints filed by all three cities — he noticed similarities between all of them.

“It is also clear that Hagens Berman has not updated the language in its lawsuits to reflect recent events,” Walrath wrote. “In fact, much of King County’s complaint is copied over from the San Francisco and Oakland complaints, with minimal alteration.”

A copy of King County Washington’s complaint posted online is titled “Template that creates a custom pleading,” which “some of the strongest evidence yet that Hagens Berman is shopping these lawsuits as an off-the-shelf deliverable.”

Hagens Berman is handling these suits on a contingency fee basis, meaning they handle the upfront costs of litigation in exchange for a percentage of the winnings. San Francisco and Oakland agreed to give the firm 23.5 percent of any winnings and King County agreed to a 17 percent fee.

King County is only the latest local government to sue fossil fuel companies over global warming, demanding compensation for damages allegedly caused by global warming. Localities also want companies to fund projects to mitigate and adapt to future warming.

In all, trial lawyers could make billions of dollars if things go their way in court. So far, eleven cities and counties are suing fossil fuel companies over alleged global warming costs, including New York City.

The “cost of needed resiliency projects runs to many billions of dollars” and currently has plans for $19 billion to mitigate global warming, NYC’s complaint claims. King County’s complaint alleges hundreds of millions of dollars in mitigation costs.

Localities’ suits are based on the idea that global warming from fossil fuel combustion violated state nuisance and trespass laws, which have sometimes been applied to traditional pollutants in the past.

However, legal experts have questioned that rationale. Opponents of the lawsuits argue global warming is a policy question that should be addressed by elected lawmakers, not judges.

“It is clear that such politically motivated lawsuits do not work and would probably trigger a fierce political backlash if they did,” Phil Goldberg, director of the Progressive Policy Institute’s Center for Civil Justice, wrote in an op-ed on March 1.

“They are showy, expensive distractions from the real work of balancing economic and environmental goods,” Goldberg wrote.

The Justice Department in April asked a California federal court to dismiss suits brought by Oakland and San Francisco over global warming.

Hagens Berman managing partner Steve Berman did not respond to The Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.

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