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Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Can You Sue God?

NOAA photo of Hurricane Katrina

By Shane Mattingly
Pax Leader

Natural disasters provoke few successful lawsuits for the fairly simple reason that there is no insurance policy to pay off. As Mark Twain famously wondered, could you sue the Pope as a representative of God?

The answer is no.

Earthquake and wind damage are traditional claims to private insurance firms and flood damage to the National Flood Insurance Program. Legal assistance in the time of natural disasters most usually takes the form of seeking resolution of full damage claims from these institutions.

But there are some interesting developments in the scientific and technological world that could change that.

Efforts undertaken inside weather computer labs to figure out how to weaken or further manipulate hurricanes, as reported in Next Nature suggest that legal ramifications, more than capability, are the biggest stumbling blocks to the science. Shifting a storm to a new path, scientists fear, could expose them to lawsuits (PDF) from those hit by the re-directed disaster.

Elsewhere, researchers suggest somebody other than God may have something to do with earthquakes. A 2010 study by Southern Methodist University and University of Texas at Austin and, reported by the Lawyers and Settlements blog, found correlations between seismic movements in Texas and hydraulic fracking, which is the process of injecting liquid into rock, usually for natural gas extraction. It was not the initial injections, but the re-injection of wastewater into the fissures that drew the correlation. There are already plentiful fracking lawsuits against permitting governments and industry regarding impacted water sources.

Damages resulting from flooding have produced successful suits against the governments in charge of flood hazard mitigation, but typically only if structural measures such as dikes, dams and levees are shown to be the cause. A 2008 commissioned study (PDF) by the Association of State Floodplain Managers Foundation produced by Dr. Jon A. Kusler additionally finds that courts infrequently hold governments liable for inadequate nonstructural measures such as inadequate warnings.

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