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Making oil companies pay for climate change

Natasha Kumar By Natasha Kumar Dec7,2023

Who should pay for the devastation of hurricanes and other disasters as a result of climate change? Missy Sims, a class action lawyer, is suing the oil giants to pay the bill.

Making the oil companies pay for climate change

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Missy Sims wants justice for victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.

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In Loiza, on the edge from the Caribbean Sea, Missy Sims strolls along what was once the boardwalk of this small municipality in Puerto Rico.

With her well-tailored suit, her sequins and her high heels, this lawyer from Illinois has a style that clashes a little with the setting which is heavenly, yes, but which still bears the scars of the passage of Hurricane Maria, there is six years old.

The deadly hurricane swept through this American territory in 2017, taking with it the lives of more than 3,000 people and causing tens of billions of dollars in damages.

Missy Sims notes that erosion has literally eaten away the development of the banks. All this because of climate change, explains this Catholic from a small town in the Midwest, who took up the cause of the people of the island.

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The island of Puerto Rico is still marked by the passage of Hurricane Maria in 2017.

Missy Sims is a lawyer for Milberg, one of the most large law firms specializing in class actions. A few years ago, his team, which has an office in San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico, participated in a lawsuit where it represented municipalities living with the consequences of opioid addiction.

Maria's devastating time on the island convinced her to help the islanders. We knew that climate change was making hurricanes bigger, stronger, wetter and faster. The science was not yet perfect, but it is today, says the lawyer.

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Thus, Missy Sims decided to sue those responsible, according to her, for these devastating climate changes: the oil companies.

To build her lawsuit, Missy Sims notably met Rosa Bonilla, the lawyer for the town of Lares, in central Puerto Rico.

While she shows us around the municipality cemetery, she points out hundreds of graves damaged by the hurricane. Split tombstones, gutted coffins, bodies of the deceased carried away by a landslide buried somewhere behind the cemetery, where abundant vegetation grew: the spectacle she saw six years ago is still vivid in her memory.

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Rosa Bonilla, lawyer for the municipality of Lares, hopes that Puerto Rico's case against the oil companies will change things.

Lares was among the first municipalities to join the lawsuit against the oil companies. We don't have the power to change things, explains Rosa Bonilla. They are the ones responsible, they should pay for the damage they cause to other citizens.

The tragic scenes of families who can no longer even pay their respects at the graves of their deceased loved ones have also challenged Missy Sims. It is their mothers, their husbands, their wives who are there, and they maintain these graves in their honor. This is a real alarm signal for what awaits us if nothing changes, she said, a tremor in her voice.

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The main objective of COP28 is to reach an agreement on emissions linked to fossil fuels. However, what is the share of responsibility of oil companies in greenhouse gases? Should they be held responsible for damages caused by climate disasters? This is the bet that an American lawyer is making. She is suing oil companies in order to pass on the bill to them for Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico in 2017. Frédéric Arnould visited the site.

Everywhere she went, Missy Sims collected the testimonies of those who lost everything and managed to convince around thirty Puerto Rican municipalities to fight against the oil giants .

In this fight, it is suing Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Shell, BP and many others. Supported by her army of lawyers, she will use racketeering legislation (RICO), used in the past to bring down mafia bosses, against the oil companies, whom she accuses of having conspired to deceive the public about the climate crisis.

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Missy Sims collected testimonies in cities affected by Hurricane Maria in 2017.

For me, victory would be a trial on the merits where the truth would come out, the proof that they knew what climate change was, that it was real, that #x27;they had studied them seriously for decades, explains the lawyer.

Instead of telling the world that their products cause the crazy effects we are currently seeing, they have chose to say that this was not the case. This is a violation of FTC [Federal Trade Commission] regulations and constitutes consumer fraud. So my goal is to uncover the truth.

A quote from Missy Sims, class action lawyer

She knows it's a fight of David against Goliath, but, as she likes to point out, it was David who won.

We're not suing them to stop them from doing what they're doing or to try to restrict their freedom of expression. What we are trying to do is hold them accountable for the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season, which was devastating to the island, with over $120 billion in damages. We'll see what the jury says, but we're asking for punitive damages, three times that amount.

To see the damage left by the hurricane, just take the small ferry to go to the island of Vieques, southeast of San Juan, and see the consequences of hurricanes and storms, which are still visible.

Everyday life on this island has been turned upside down. There was no water, no food, no transportation, says Liz Garcia Martinez, who sells lotto tickets not far from the main square.

At the time, she was suffering from cancer. Six years later, the badly damaged hospital, which had to be demolished, has still not been replaced by a new building.

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The arena on the island of Vieques was devastated and remained abandoned.

Another witness to the devastation is the devastated city arena, where wildlife has taken up residence. The building seems frozen in time, abandoned, which deprives the young people of the island of a place to engage in sporting activities.

The deputy mayor of Vieques, Adolfo Rosa, welcomes this helping hand from the north of the country with great satisfaction. We are victims and we need a helping hand from the outside, he says.

The lawsuit is part of a new wave of litigation targeting oil, gas and coal companies over the ravages of climate change allegedly caused by the use of their products. On the attack on Missy Sims, the oil companies remain discreet and believe that a court is not the right place to address the issue of climate change.

This will not stop the lawyer from the Chicago area, who is all the more angry because it is people of color and poor people who are suffering this damage.

It seems like people don't care until it happens to white people. This is a bit like what happened with opioids. For decades, communities of color had been affected by drug addiction, but it wasn't until prom queens and football players became addicted that we suddenly saw what was happening. was passing.

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Hundreds of graves were damaged by Hurricane Maria in Lares.

In Lares, lawyer Rosa Bonilla hopes to win her case the end of this legal journey which will be very, very long, but which should inspire change. The scientific evidence is there and I hope that Congress, the people who make the laws, are looking at us and are aware of it, and that they will not be persuaded to leave the law as is.

Is Missy Sims feared by the oil giants? She doesn't believe it, but she knows that they will do anything to delay the legal proceedings. As we have seen in lawsuits in other regions, they find every possible reason to try to send the case to a new court, to appeal, to delay it. p>Open full screen

Puerto Rico residents say oil companies should pay for damage caused by Hurricane Maria.

The task is therefore colossal. Missy Sims is aware of the burden, but the Christian lawyer knows she has a strength behind her. I have a helper and that is the Holy Spirit. So I turn to him when it's too difficult, but actually, it's not because God wouldn't make me do something if he didn't give me the strength to go through with it. #x27;at the end.

In a few weeks, she should know if her case has cleared enough legal hurdles to move to the trial stage .

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Natasha Kumar

By Natasha Kumar

Natasha Kumar has been a reporter on the news desk since 2018. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Times Hub, Natasha Kumar worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my 1-800-268-7116

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