US: California sues car manufacturers

By just-auto.com editorial team | 21 September 2006

California is suing six vehicle manufacturers for damage to the environment, economy and public health, caused by vehicle emissions.

The six automakers named are GM, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, Honda and Nissan.

A lawsuit was filed yesterday by California's attorney general Bill Lockyer on behalf of the state.

The Los Angeles Times said that automakers think the case has no legal merit.

A legal expert was quoted as saying that the approach is based on nuisance law, and as such the state's lawyers may be able to convince a judge the industry places a burden on society that is too great to bear.

Lockyer is seeking potentially billions of dollars of damage to water supplies, coastline, forests, wildlife and public health.

"Basically, what we are saying is it's old-fashioned economics. You should pay for the damage you cause," Lockyer said in an interview with the LA Times.

Gloria Bergquist, a spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said, "Using nuisance suits to address global warming would involve the courts in deciding political questions beyond their jurisdiction. This opens the door to lawsuits targeting any activity that uses fossil fuel for energy."

The alliance represents the Big Three US automakers and Toyota.

The move follows the introduction of bill AB 32 in California last month that seeks to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2020.

The lawsuit has also been criticised by a group called California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.

In a statement, its chairman John Merchant said: "In his latest crusade, attorney general Bill Lockyer has decided to sue automakers, arguing they have created a public nuisance by building cars - cars which emit greenhouse gases.  He's requesting that a jury award monetary damages as well as attorney fees and costs, but he's missing out on the really big money with this one.

"The AG's complaint overlooks 36m other sources of greenhouse gas emissions - the human beings occupying California who ought to be sued for 'negligent breathing.'

"Californians each emit about 2.5 pounds of carbon dioxide every day just by breathing. If you multiply 2.5 pounds of CO2 per day by 36m Californians by 365 days, that's more than 16m tons of CO2 just from breathing.  Talk about a public nuisance ... and don't even get me started on the methane people produce.

"This lawsuit is a public nuisance. Activist attorneys general who abuse our legal system and impose a system of 'government by lawsuit' to gain publicity and further their own political agenda do so at the expense of the people they are paid to represent.

"Inevitably the costs of litigation in cases like this will be passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices. Just what we all need."