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Can Hurricane Lawsuits Be Based on Climate-Change Science?

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

If necessity is the mother of invention, could a hurricane be the mother of new litigation?

Apparently so. In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, attorneys have already filed lawsuits on behalf of homeowners and businesses that were deluged. They could open a floodgate of, well, you know the story.

According to reports, climate-change science may also lead to pioneering lawsuits.

Predicting Damages

Rapid scientific advances are making it possible to predict how hurricanes are caused by climate change, Reuters reports. Those predictions could bolster negligence claims against governments and companies for failing to plan for such disasters.

"As extreme weather events and related damages and other impacts increase in severity ... courts will increasingly be called upon to seek redress for damages suffered," said Lindene Patton, a risk-management lawyer with the Earth & Water Group, a specialty law firm based in Washington, D.C.

Scientists from around the world are working feverishly on problems associated with climate change. A group at Oxford University says they plan to study Hurricane Harvey more intensely to look for climate-change evidence.

The federal government, on the other hand, is already back-paddling in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency denounced a report from the U.N. World Meteorological Organization that historic rainfall from Harvey was linked to climate change.

Government Responses

Meanwhile, Texas lawyers are suing around a new law that is meant to curb lawsuits from hail damage. The new law, HB1774, went into effect on Sept. 1; the plaintiffs filed before the effective date.

In Sunbelt Trees, LLC v. EMC Insurance Companies and Employers Mutual Casualty Company, the plaintiff alleges damages from the loss of use of its tree farm due to Hurricane Harvey. Insurers and their attorneys are not happy about it.

"The insurance company hasn't even adjusted the claim yet," said attorney Steven Badger. "How could it have breached the insurance policy?"

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