"The Laws That Took Down Mobsters Are Now Being Turned Against Big Oil"

"Cities in New Jersey and Puerto Rico claim oil companies are behind a conspiracy to deceive the public."

"The flood-prone city of Hoboken, New Jersey, sued Exxon, Chevron, and other oil companies three years ago, hoping to put them on trial for deceiving the public. Like other lawsuits set in motion by “Exxon Knew” investigations, Hoboken made the case that they breached state consumer protection laws by hiding the risks of burning fossil fuels.

But the lawsuit recently took a novel twist. Hoboken’s lawyers amended the complaint in late April, alleging that Big Oil had violated the state’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, known as RICO, as first reported by the accountability site ExxonKnews. New Jersey’s statute is modeled after a federal RICO law passed in 1970 designed to take down organized crime. These racketeering lawsuits aren’t just for the Mafia anymore; they’ve also been successful against tobacco companies, such as Philip Morris, and pharmaceutical executives tied to the opioid epidemic.

It could be the start of a new wave of climate lawsuits, said Korey Silverman-Roati, a fellow at Columbia Law School. Thirty-three states and two U.S. territories have RICO laws, and judgments in these cases can award plaintiffs triple the damages. The use of RICO is another sign that cities and states are trying to learn from “the successes and failures of the tobacco litigation movement and the opioid litigation movement,” Silverman-Roati said."

Kate Yoder reports for Grist May 19, 2023.

Source: Grist, 05/22/2023