The theatre of the absurd has found a new headlining act in Comer v. Murphy Oil USA. Essentially, landowners in Mississippi are suing oil and coal companies for rising sea levels and increased hurricane strength, claiming that the greenhouse gases they release is the cause.
The Fifth Circuit Court in New Orleans recently overturned a lower court’s ruling and will allow the plaintiffs their day in court. J. Russell Jackson, an expert on mass tort litigation, commented that, “Comer is a private class action for compensatory and punitive damages, not a suit brought by states or municipalities for injunctive relief. And that means contingency fees. And thus the promise of copycat lawsuits.”
While the Court ruled that the plaintiffs only had standing to assert their claims for public and private nuisance, trespass and negligence, it has opened the door for a flood of activist lawsuits by environmental groups. Journalist Kirsten Korosec speculates how far this ruling could go by asking if it would be possible to sue an automaker for making mostly SUVs.
According to Jackson, the Katrina case is at an early stage, and the Fifth Circuit’s ruling “does not mean there is enough causation evidence to survive a motion to dismiss.” Hopefully, that is exactly what will happen.