From the toxic events that spawned “Erin Brockovich” to the oil-stained shores of the Gulf of Mexico, consumer attorneys have toiled to protect Mother Nature from abusive polluters.
What would the natural world be like without lawyers? It would be more polluted – fouled rivers, smudged landscapes and sky, neighbors left toxic to the detriment of our health and happiness. Trial lawyers have come to the rescue of Mother Nature again and again over the decades.
Attorneys have led the way with landmark litigation and class action lawsuits as well as by building coalitions with environmental protection organizations, labor and public health groups. Our attorneys have represented exposed to toxic chemicals and pollutants, including TCE, benzene, styrene, chlorine and asbestos. We have represented homeowners bedeviled by toxic mold. We have fought the good fight for accountability following massive oil spills – the sort of accountability that brings about changes in the behavior of industry. Our attorneys have battled big polluters who have allowed toxic plumes to contaminate the groundwater beneath towns small and large.
Consider the case of Hinkley, California. You may remember it from the 2000 Hollywood film, “Erin Brockovich.” A plume of toxic heavalent chromium from PG&E cooling towers percolated into the town’s groundwater. Brockovich, a legal clerk for the late Edward L. Masry, helped make the case by investigating illnesses in the community. Masry and Los Angeles attorney Tom Girardi, both CAOC members, pushed the case in 1996 to the largest settlement paid in a direct-action lawsuit in U.S. history.
Consumer attorneys were also instrumental in the closure of the chemically infested Tweedy Elementary School, where children were exposed to toxic waste from a steel drum plant on a daily basis. In Woburn, Mass., the case against corporate polluters who spilled toxins into the town’s water supply sparked concern from residents afflicted by leukemia and other illnesses. The case spawned a book and a 1999 movie, “A Civil Action,” starring John Travolta.
In 1989, the tanker Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons of oil along the Alaska coast, prompting a massive legal battle that ended with a $5.2 billion jury verdict against the oil giant, the bulk of it punitive damages. The oil giant fought successfully to reduce it to just a fraction of the original award, but the catastrophe and resulting court battles helped prompt better practices by oil companies. Two decades later, however, the catastrophic 2010 Gulf Oil Spill resulted in nearly 5 million barrels of crude to spill in the Gulf of Mexico after the British Petroleum oil rig Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank. In the aftermath of that disaster, consumer attorneys battled on several fronts to ensure that British Petroleum and others were held accountable for the environmental damage and chain reaction of rippling economic effects
Outside of protecting the public in court, consumer attorneys work in Sacramento to ensure that attempts by corporate polluters to weaken the California Environmental Quality Act are stopped in their tracks. CAOC works closely with groups such as the Sierra Club and the California League of Conservation Voters to improve laws on clear air and clean water. In the state Capitol, CAOC and its members attorneys are a force of nature in the fight to protect Nature.