Global warming litigation, briefly expected to become the trial lawyers' next treasure trove, has hit a snag. The famous Comer case, which I have written about on occasion, was denied mandamus this week. Gulf Coast property owners had brought a public nuisance lawsuit against several oil companies for making Hurricane Katrina more intense than it would have been otherwise -- based, of course, on the theory that man-made global warming tends to make hurricanes more intense.
This case was a scary one because, if allowed to proceed, would have created an entirely new class of junk lawsuits, and it could have potentially resulted in a judicial -- rather than legislative or even executive -- imposition of carbon limitations on industry and consumers. If you use electricity or drive a car, then you are guilty of contributing to the problem of man-made global warming, and therefore anyone harmed in an intense storm could . A more consistent application of the theory would have required the plaintiffs to sue petroleum consumers, but their pockets aren't deep as oil companies' pockets.
The legal back-story of how this cases ended up before the Supreme Court is more complicated than that, but the bottom line is that the lawsuit has been blocked on the grounds that it attempts to settle a political question through litigation. People can still sue oil companies for damages from oil spills -- and rightly so -- but courts will not be hearing claims that the extraction or use of fossil fuels is, in itself, a public nuisance.