A group of 12 Mississippi Gulf Coast homeowners is using a novel legal strategy to try to recoup losses suffered during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The lawsuit seeks damages from a group of 33 energy companies, including ExxonMobil and coal giant Peabody Energy, electric utilities, and other conglomerates for allegedly emitting greenhouse gases that the litigants say contributed to global warming.
That, the litigants claim, caused a rise in sea levels and increased air and water temperatures fueling the Category 5 hurricane that destroyed their homes.
The lawsuit, considered a long shot by legal experts, cleared a hurdle last month when a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals said it could continue, overruling a Circuit Court judge who had agreed with arguments from the companies that global warming is a political, not legal, issue.
The key to the appeal was in the legal strategy, said Robert Percival, director of the Environmental Law Program at the University of Maryland. Rather than asking the court to force the companies to stop emitting greenhouse gases, the lawsuit asks for a ruling on whether damage suffered by the homeowners can be traced back to those emissions, he said.
“Just because climate change is difficult, courts aren’t going to shy away from their traditional role in weighing issues of harm,” Percival said.