Climate change litigation has quietly become one of the trendiest tactics for law firms hoping to score a huge payday from contingency fee arrangements. These lawsuits, typically filed by municipalities and accompanying counsel, seek damages from energy companies for alleged climate change related costs from their operations. Honolulu, Hawaii is the latest city to join the climate litigation foray at the behest of Sher Edling.
In March, 2020 Honolulu filed a 119 page lawsuit against eight energy companies following proclamation from the City Council of intentions to do so in late November. Honolulu’s chief resilience officer, Josh Stanbro, explained the reasoning for the suit, alleging that oil companies have left the municipality “unjustly having to bear climate change and its impacts due to the information that’s been withheld over time by the fossil fuel corporations.”
In the lawsuit, plaintiffs argue that climate change caused by the eight companies has:
- Created a likelihood that sea levels along Honolulu’s coast line will rise, causing flooding, erosion, and beach loss. Extreme weather, including hurricanes and tropical storms, will become more frequent around the city the suit alleges.
- Heat waves will grow in frequency thanks to temperatures warming four times faster than seen in the last 50 years.
- Induced less rainfall and thus a scarcity of freshwater while warming oceans and acidification could reduce fishing yields and kill coral reefs.
Plaintiffs argue that the costs the city faces surpasses $19 billion.
This suit, as with others similar in nature, raises many questions about identifying direct causes and costs, narrowing culpability to these eight sole companies as drivers of climate change, and the role the city itself plays as an emitter.
Further, it should interest readers that the Sher Edling law firm is serving as counsel on 11 of the 14 climate cases filed in the last two and a half years. Others following the issue have obtained emails between the firm and municipality elected officials or states’ Attorneys General pitching these climate litigation lawsuits. Sher Edling’s other lawsuits are structured through contingency fees, meaning the firm’s lawyers must work under the supervision of the municipality’s in – house counsel and are paid a percentage of the settlement.
The climate litigation trend is turning out to be a dirty one with law firms pitching these ideas to vulnerable municipalities while structuring huge percentage fees and massive settlement demands. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the AEP v. Connecticut decision that lays this issue to rest, but law firms continue to hope for that one Hail Mary to break the ice on the issue.