Air Pollution Cited As Cause of Death – Will Lawsuits Follow?

Jan 7, 2021 | Environmental

Ella Kissi-Debrah, a 9-year-old UK citizen, is believed to be the first person to have her death certificate list air pollution as a cause of her death.  Ella suffered from an extreme case of asthma and the coroner reviewing her death determined that the high level of pollution surrounding her London home contributed to her symptoms and ultimately to her death.  With countless environmental lawsuits already pending across the globe, this decision could open the floodgates for more air pollution lawsuits – specifically, personal injury-based pollution lawsuits.

So far, most environmental based lawsuits seek remedies along the lines of cleanup of hazardous waste spills, payment for infrastructure to harden municipalities against increasingly severe weather events caused by climate change, and other similar remedies.  However, the London coroner’s decision to list air pollution as a cause of death could lead to a new wave of lawsuits – more personal injury lawsuits arising out of environmental hazards.  We have seen this before, such as cases where contaminated drinking water causes health impacts.  However, this decision will likely result in more cases based on health impacts (or death) from the air we breathe.

Many countries have taken steps to curb the impacts of climate change through regulatory action.  With President-Elect Biden and Vice President-Elect Harris being sworn into office this month, the United States is likely to see increased federal environmental regulatory activity.  The Biden/Harris climate plan is focused on creating more jobs in the clean energy sector while protecting the environment.  President-Elect Biden named Gina McCarthy, who served as Administrator of the EPA during President Obama’s administration, to lead the White House Office of Climate Policy.  After the current administration repealed over 100 regulations concerning numerous environmental topics, the Biden administration is already touting climate change as one of its priorities.

The increased spur of regulatory activity combined with the climate lawsuits pending around the world will likely impact progress towards addressing our climate crisis, but some wonder if it will be enough?  Without really hard-hitting regulations, many believe that the climate regulations to date are nothing more than token acknowledgements that there is a climate crisis and something needs to happen to address the crisis, without identifying sources of funding or realistic solutions to move the ball forward.

In order for real change to be effectuated, many believe the proposed climate regulations need to identify immediate actionable steps that can be taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including action items such as required clean energy use for a certain percentage of new buildings, more money devoted to green transportation and incentives for funding and developing such modes of transportation over personal vehicles, and other such items. It has been argued that the climate regulations will show more immediate progress with these tangible action items established and funding sources identified. We have seen more success in regulatory and policy development at the state level, but the power of the federal government will help to promote nationwide initiatives that will have greater impact.

CMBG3 Law’s Environmental practice group helps to navigate our clients through litigation, compliance, and regulatory matters, including issues related to climate change and climate risk management. For more information about our Environmental practice, please visit us or contact Alexandra Fraher for more information.

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