Defense of a public nuisance action by several California cities and counties
An important issue in product liability and toxic tort litigation - identified by tort reform organizations as a key target of legislative efforts - is the representation of state and local governments by plaintiffs' lawyers under a contingent fee agreement. Our attorneys successfully advanced an innovative theory to strike down such arrangements without new legislation. The firm raised the issue on behalf of Atlantic Richfield in a public nuisance action by several California cities and counties. County of Santa Clara, et al. v. Atlantic Richfield Company, et al., Superior Court of California for the County of Santa Clara (Case No. CV 788657). The cities and counties sought abatement of lead paint in all buildings within their jurisdictions. The firm won dismissal of the case in 2003, but the Court of Appeals reinstated some of the claims in June 2006. Our attorneys subsequently moved to preclude the governmental plaintiffs from compensating their private lawyers on a contingent fee basis. The trial court granted the motion, finding it improper and unconstitutional to give private individuals a personal financial stake in litigation on behalf of governmental entities. Plaintiffs are seeking appellate review of the ruling.