Dan Struck, an insurance policyholder partner in the Chicago office of Culhane Meadows, is prominently featured in a recent article published in Insurance Journal about a pending lawsuit filed by a group of youths against the U.S. over climate change, which has the potential to open up an entirely new area of lawsuits on a historic scale. Here are some excerpts –
For a good handle on the magnitude of the potential litigation, think asbestos or other major environmental liability lawsuits, explained Daniel J. Struck, a policyholder attorney, who is a partner in the Chicago, Ill. office of Culhane Meadows PLLC.
Struck believes the case of Juliana v. United States, brought by 21 youths and supported by advocacy group Our Children’s Trust, should be one that the insurance community should definitely be watching closely.
“This has the potential to be a sort of a repetition of the kind of insurance experience that happened with toxic torts like asbestos, and some of the long-tail environmental liabilities that were the subjects of litigations back in the 80s and 90s,” Struck said.
Despite the distance the case has to go, when or if the suit prevails, the implications for other lawsuits and the entire insurance community are worth paying attention to now, he added.
The case has the ability within general liability policies to reach back to when contamination or the environmental discharges took place many years ago, if they are shown to contribute to global warming or to changes in climate. At that point, expect to see no shortage of private claimants arguing that policies were in effect during a particular historic period, he said.
In short, a ski resort owner can sue the oil industry for a drop in the number of skiers and snowboarders due to consecutive poor snow seasons. Don’t stop there. Consider possible suits from the likes of the commercial fishing industry, businesses with ocean-proximate real estate, agricultural concerns, and on and on.
Struck foresees a “wide pool of potential defendants in those kinds of claims,” should plaintiffs in Juliana or other similar cases prevail.
Such suits could easily reach back to before accidental pollution exclusions of the 1970s, he said.
“We’re potentially talking about discharges taking place before the pollution exclusions were in place,” he added.
Juliana‘s broad, almost global market view, is part of a key reason a new landscape of climate change suits will be possible.
“It’s the potential for some pretty radical responsibility shifting here for who’s responsible for these kinds of developments,” he said. “The insurance companies with deep insurance pockets are a logical place to look.”
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