Why Can’t Regular Citizens Get a Fair Shake in Sacramento?

Bill to change statute of limitations for polluters stalls out

by Brian Leubitz

When people complain about the Legislature, it is precisely because of things like this story from the always interesting California Watch.

Under pressure from construction, architect and other industry groups, state legislators killed a bill that would have closed a loophole used by businesses to evade pollution lawsuits.

Sponsored by Assemblyman Warren Furutani, D-Long Beach, AB 1207 arose out of a lawsuit in Carson, where residents discovered in 2009 that for nearly five decades, their families have been exposed to dangerous levels of cancer-causing toxins emanating from their properties. There is no state law that explicitly puts time limits on pollution cases, which often are discovered decades after the toxic dumping occurs.

However, Shell Oil Co. and a local developer were able to initially get the resident lawsuit thrown out by claiming the state’s 10-year time limit on “construction defect” claims had expired.

It is never hard to kill a bill that can be even tangentially tied to the evil “trial lawyers”. However, in this situation, and many others, lawsuits are the only ramification for Californians who have been well and royally screwed by big companies. This time it was a developer and Shell Oil, but you can trace these same general circumstances to many other cases.

The buyers and renters of homes in Carson simply had no way to know that they were moving into property that was on top of a toxic waste dump. But Shell knew, and at some level, the developers should have known if they did their due diligence. But money comes first, and that didn’t happen because any answers would be inconvenient.

And so a generation later, people in Carson are stuck with toxic property. And somehow there is a statue of limitations for an event that they could have no way of knowing? It is a perversion of the concept of statute of limitations, which is intended to force people to act on situations of which they are aware.

Best of luck to Asm. Furutani and any other legislators who take up this bill. This shouldn’t happen to other Californians. But what this really speaks of is the sheer power of lobbyists and industry in Sacramento. I try to imagine the situation where a majority of Californians prefers this outcome, and I just can’t imagine such a world. No, this was all about moneyed interests against a diffuse sense of right and wrong.

I suppose it shouldn’t surprise much that the money won.