California Sues Automaker Over Emissions

I have to say, the idea that California is suing Ford, GM, and Toyota over the emissions from the vehicles they have manufactured strikes me as…well a stupid waste of time and resources.

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – California filed suit against Ford Motor Co., General Motors Corp., Toyota Motor Corp. and three other carmakers on Wednesday, charging that greenhouse gases from their vehicles have cost the state millions of dollars.

State Attorney General Bill Lockyer said the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Northern California was the first of its kind to seek to hold manufacturers liable for the damages caused by their vehicles’ emissions.

The lawsuit also names Chrysler Motors Corp., the U.S. arm of Germany’s DaimlerChrysler, and the North American units of Honda Motor Co. and Nissan Motor Co. Ltd.

What is wrong with this? The cars are not in anyway defective. That is they worked precisely as advertised and it isn’t Toyota’s, GM’s, or Ford’s fault that people in California bought the cars and drive them. This is very much like suing gun manufacturers when a family member is shot by a gun the manufacturer made. My understanding is that these suits rarely if ever go very far since it has to be demonstrated that the product some sort of inherent defect. Of course, I’m not a lawyer, and California has had some really dippy court outcomes (think O.J. Simpson, Robert Blake, and probably several other I’ve thankfully forgotten about) so this could actually lead somewhere. Where I don’t want to know.

Update: Thanks to commenter yetanotherjohn for reminding me that this is indeed likely nothing more than a cheap political stunt for Lockyer, who just coincidentally is running for State Treasurer (see here also).

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Steve Verdon
About Steve Verdon
Steve has a B.A. in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles and attended graduate school at The George Washington University, leaving school shortly before staring work on his dissertation when his first child was born. He works in the energy industry and prior to that worked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Division of Price Index and Number Research. He joined the staff at OTB in November 2004.


  1. I’ve often wondered why they’re aren’t more companies that just refuse to do business in particular states.

  2. Herb Ely says:

    Norman Augustine’s book Augusitines Laws puts it this way: dogs win dog fights; people win bull fights; and lawyers win people fights.

  3. Stormy,

    That would be an interesting reaction by the car makers being sued. Further, if they held out for a law permanently excluding them from liability and say a five year tax holiday on new car sales (to cover their costs in defending this), they could come out of it quite nicely.

    But do you notice the the dog that didn’t bark in this story? Lockyer is a democrat running for State Treasurer. So he won’t be around to clean up the mess. He can tap into the democratic left as a “champion against global warming”, the next best thing to being against the Iraq war for the left. Now how could Reuters have missed such an important part of the story? Couldn’t be bias could it?

  4. Why aren’t they suing the oil companies instead? It is the burning of oil products that causes the pollution. Besides, the oil companies have a lot more money than the auto manufacturers at this point in time.

  5. madmatt says:

    Hell I think they should be sued just to recoup all the tax breaks they’ve been given to improve emissions and fuel efficiency which obviously they have been pocketing for the last several years (couldn’t have anything to do with board members who are on oil and automotive boards of directors making sure prices stay up)
    The fact that they didn’t use those funds intelligently is why the us auto industry is failing miserable…

  6. tom says:

    Heck, it is the owners of the vehicles who are generating the emissions. What would be the likelihood of Lockyer suing the voters of California, especially during an election year?

    “California filed suit against Ford Motor Co., General Motors Corp., Toyota Motor Corp. and three other carmakers on Wednesday, charging that greenhouse gases from their vehicles have cost the state millions of dollars.”

    I didn’t know that when I bought my Toyota it was still their [Toyota’s] vehicle and it didn’t belong to me.

  7. Anderson says:

    Emissions are regulated by the feds, right? If the emissions met the fed regulations, then any state suit is probably preempted. (Free legal advice, worth what you paid for it.)

  8. JR says:

    Not a big student of California Civil Law…BUTTTTT… It would be interesting to see the car makers file an action to Join the Attorney General of California as a defendant in the suit. Since he, more than likely, owns and operates a motor vehicle.

    In other words, file an Action that names every individual in the State of California who owns a car or truck or motorcycle or leaf blower etc. as an additional defendant, and then launch a big ass PR campaign to assure all defendants that they have the AG of California to thank.

    Then, file a Summary Judgement Action indicating that they just make the cars…”they don’t pull the trigger.”

    Just funning,

  9. Steven Plunk says:

    Charles Austin had it right but let’s take it all the way, why don’t they sue the citizens of California who drive all those darn cars and pollute the air?

    The citizens buy ’em, fill ’em with gas, and drive ’em like maniacs. Look at all the second hand deaths the drivers are causing through accidents besides the primary deaths through pollution.

    Perhaps targeting the leadership of the citizens would accomplish the goal? Go RICO on the elected leadership who writes the laws allowing such behavior.

  10. JKB says:

    Well, it would be more appropriate for Arizona to impose a $25/KW pollution tax on the electricity sold to California. California forced the power plants to locate out of state due to harassing regulation, thus exporting the green house gas pollution to Arizona and other states. It is only right that the good people of Arizona be compensated for the damage to their quality of life caused by California’s direct exportation of their power generation.

  11. I wonder what the UAW thinks of Mr. Lockyer right now?

  12. Herb says:

    The big automakers should decline to do business in California and not sell cars there.

    Then, we will hear the crying and screaming from those who would have to walk everywhere rather than drive their cars.

  13. Ray says:

    I was thinking the same thing as Anderson, Cars, trucks, and the like are regulated by federal law, that would make the lawsuit frivolous but that won’t stop it! BTW, what about California’s 10 percent law for new car sales and the state laws regulating gas additives? Wouldn’t that exempt the auto industry from a lawsuit? This is “Theater in the Law”, plan and simple.

  14. rvman says:

    I think folks here have come up with the next great thing in legal maneuver – the class action lawsuit where the defendant is the class, rather than or in addition to the plaintiff. Second-hand smokers suing the first-handers. Asbestos victims suing ex-employees of the asbestos manufacturers. Some musician or music company suing everyone who ever downloaded any of their music.

  15. Roger Ricks says:

    Has anyone noticed that Mr. Lockyer did not include BMW, Infiniti, Lexus, Saab, Jaguar or Porsche in the lawsuit?