Via America’s Lawyer: A Peruvian farmer traveled across the globe to file a lawsuit against the German energy company, RWE, over greenhouse emissions. Mollye Barrows, Legal journalist with the Trial Lawyer Magazine, joins Mike Papantonio to talk about the lawsuit.


*This transcript was generated by a third-party transcription software company, so please excuse any typos.

Mike Papantonio:             A Peruvian farmer traveled across the globe to file a lawsuit against the German energy company, RWE, over greenhouse emissions. He says the company should have to pay for the toll climate change is taking on his community. Legal journalist Mollye Barrows with the national Trial Lawyer Magazine has more. Why should the community have to pay for it? Shouldn’t the company who caused it pay for it?

Mollye Barrows:                Yes.

Mike Papantonio:             Isn’t that kind of the, the question we ask all the time? About why is it that we’re letting these companies externalize all the costs and all the problems and then they’re taking all the profits and leaving us with this disaster.

Mollye Barrows:                And saying it’s a political problem.

Mike Papantonio:             Yeah. What’s your take on this?

Mollye Barrows:                Well, I think it’s fascinating. I think this could very well set a good precedent. One that’s needed. You have a lot of organizations like cities and counties which are suing these individual energy companies, but this is the first guy who’s brought an individual lawsuit and he’s from the Andes Mountains in Peru, surrounded by glaciers and you can see that they’re visibly starting to deteriorate.

And, and he’s basing his suit on a study that was done by an organization that found that this particular company, so he filed against RWE in Germany. He traveled all the way to Germany in 2015 to file this lawsuit. And at first it was dismissed and then it was revived three years later, basically a higher court in Germany ruled that he did have legal ground to bring this suit.

And so it is being pursued in that regard. But basically he’s saying, you know, your company, this study that was done found that your company is 0.5% responsible for the greenhouse gases that are being admitted. So I want to hold you 0.5% responsible for paying for the, the risks to prevent flooding or paying to prevent, you know, whatever it takes to shore up a town in his community.

Mike Papantonio:             In other words, he can quantify the damage. Just like, just like we did on tobacco.

Mollye Barrows:                Right.

Mike Papantonio:             You know, our Law Firm handled the tobacco litigation. We looked at each company said, you have this much of the market. This is what you should have to pay for this particular bill. We could, it’s easy to quantify. What I like about this is it’s, it’s taking place in Germany. I liked that we have a better, can you imagine that, that we’ve become, our judicial system has become so cranked.

It’s become so peculiar that we have to go to Germany to handle something as significant as this. And as I look at it, as I compare notes on what his possibilities are over there, he’s got a better possibility in Germany than he has in the United States.

Mollye Barrows:                Right, and the reason he even went to Germany, is his lawsuit’s being supported by a nonprofit called Germanwatch group. And basically he gave tours in his little town in the Andes and he met a tourist there who said, you’re right, your town is at risk. You know, they’ve had problems with flooding from a lake that was fed by glaciers before as the glaciers started to deteriorate. So they’ve see, feel like this is their real danger of this particular lake being impacted by this glacier.

So when you talked to this tourist, this tourist said, why don’t you look into this organization? So they are supporting him and his efforts to bring this because they recognize that again, you have, whether it’s this man’s community or communities all across the country, all across the world, they’re facing flooding issues from this. And if they open this door, it could help.

Mike Papantonio:             Here’s what I really like about this. The trial that takes place, if he can get that far, it won’t be a jury trial. It’ll be, it’ll really be kind of, it’ll be what we call it, a bench trial, a judge trial. This will be a list. This will be several administrative judges probably, that will decide. They’ll listen to the science, they’ll listen to the case in a different kind of way that a, that a jury would, and they’ll make decisions that will have a huge impact on any subsequent cases that are brought around the world.

It’s going to be admissible, for example, in Germany, if there’s particular findings where he says, yes, I told you I could quantify the amount of damage that was caused by this company. Here it is. We can break it down. There’s no guesswork here. It’s, it’s, it’s very specific. When he can get to that point, then we can then borrow that in the United States and say, here’s the formula.

Mollye Barrows:                And that’s what they’re hoping for. And in fact, the court has appointed two hydrology experts who are going to go to this guy’s community. Take a look at the measure of the risk essentially from the glacier. Then determine what role climate change is playing in that risk. And then again, boiling down to if it, if it’s not, if it’s not universally rooted, in, in, well that’s the argument. I’m sorry I jumped ahead.

But basically they’re going to take a look at these hydrology experts are going to take a look at a situation and evaluate if this particular company, you know, if climate change was involved, did this particular company play a role on it. And so there’s, that’s where some folks are saying the suit may not have much of a chance and that you can’t prove that a specific company is specifically responsible for this specific climate change.

Mike Papantonio:             Let me talk about that just a second. It’s always, we can’t, we can’t, don’t do it. Usually the people that are feeding that line is corporate America.

Mollye Barrows:                You’re right.

Mike Papantonio:             You can’t prove, we heard the same thing on tobacco. We’ve heard it on pharmaceutical case after pharmaceutical case. I heard it in the environmental case I tried up in, up in the Ohio River valley. You can’t prove this. No, you can prove it. There are experts that can take it down to, look, we can put, we can put a man on the moon. We can send a rocket to Mars. You don’t think experts can figure out how much damage was done by this company? What impact that had. Quantify the impact and say, you know what, the bill is $80 billion and you know what, you’re responsible for 0.5% of this. Easily done. This is not, you know, this idea, it’s just beyond us, is such a ridiculous argument.

Mollye Barrows:                Right, and he’s only asking for $20,000. That’s 0.5% of the bill. If you’re 0.5% the contributor of this problem, then he’s saying, we’re gonna need $20,000 to shore up this town from flooding that can be potentially catastrophic.

Mike Papantonio:             Well, I don’t care if it’s twenty thousand, ten thousand, eighty billion, what’s going to come out of it hopefully if it goes right is some precedent that we can’t use directly, but we can use a lot of the information that comes out of it.

Mollye Barrows:                Well, I’m excited for him. I hope it moves forward.

Mike Papantonio:             Me too, thanks for joining me, okay.

Mollye Barrows:                Thanks Pap.

Mike Papantonio is an American attorney and television and radio talk show host. He is past president of The National Trial Lawyers, the most prestigious trial lawyer association in America; and is one of the few living attorneys inducted into the Trial Lawyer Hall of Fame. He hosts the international television show "America's Lawyer"; and co-hosts Ring of Fire Radio, a nationally syndicated weekly radio program, with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Sam Seder.