Three recent California lawsuits against some of the country’s largest energy companies represent the latest effort by civil litigants to obtain legal relief for damages allegedly sustained because of climate change. Although the legal viability of these suits is in doubt, companies significantly involved in the extraction, sale, and use of fossil fuels should consider what, if any, insurance coverage may be available to them to respond to similar legal actions in the future. In general, liability policies should provide coverage for suits alleging property damage and trespass linked with global warming. But policyholders likely will face several obstacles, including insurer coverage denials, in obtaining coverage. Policyholders can and should take steps now to improve their ability to secure insurance coverage.
Global warming litigation is heating up. Two counties and one city in California recently filed separate lawsuits in state court there, alleging that 37 energy companies and associations contributed to the acceleration of climate change and caused them to sustain millions of dollars in damages as a result. Although the ultimate legal viability of these suits is questionable, energy companies, automobile manufacturers, and other industrial companies significantly involved in the extraction, sale, and use of fossil fuels should carefully consider whether and to what extent insurance coverage may be available to them to respond to similar legal actions in the future.