In-house counsel and executives within the railroad, logistics, and transportation industries need to be aware of an increasing likelihood of litigation-related to global warming. In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2007 decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, suits have been filed seeking to impose liability on companies whose activities emit carbon dioxide. As additional suits arise, they will doubtless reach companies in the oil, electric power, auto, and railroad sectors.
These developments raise an important question: Are companies in transportation-related fields adequately prepared for the acceleration of climate change-based tort cases that their industry will likely encounter in the near future? The theories of liability for contributing to global warming are still being developed, and with the vast array of factors that may contribute to climate change, issues of causation may seem insuperable. But the perception that the White House and Congress have not taken adequate measures to confront global warming may stoke interest in turning to the judicial system for relief. The potentially calamitous impact of climate change means that liability could be enormous, which gives inventive plaintiffs’ lawyers great incentive to formulate a colorable legal theory. Climate change will also test the U.S. court system’s ability to manage a new brand of complex litigation characterized by difficult scientific issues, burdensome numbers of litigants, and novel liability theories.
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