These are the cases that made me name my mediation business “Settle It Now.”
The contamination of groundwater here in Southern California as the result of discharges from the Stringfellow toxic waste site took many legal forms, including State of California v. Allstate Insurance Company. Like Dickens’ infamous Jarndyce v. Jarndyce, this “scarecrow of a suit has, in course of time, become so complicated, that no man alive knows what it means. Innumerable children have been born into [State of California],
innumerable young people . . . married into it; [and] innumerable old people . . . died out of it. Scores of persons have deliriously found themselves made parties in Jarndyce and Jarndyce, without knowing how or why; whole families have inherited legendary hatreds with the suit. The little plaintiff or defendant, who was promised a new rocking-horse when Jarndyce and Jarndyce should be settled, has grown up, possessed himself of a real horse, and trotted away into the other world. Fair wards of court have faded into mothers and grandmothers; a long procession of Chancellors has come in and gone out; the legion of bills in the suit have been transformed into mere bills of mortality; there are not three Jarndyces left upon the earth perhaps, since old Tom Jarndyce in despair blew his brains out at a coffee-house in Chancery Lane; but Jarndyce and Jarndyce still drags its dreary length before the Court, perennially hopeless.
The last time I worked on this case — in 2004 — it was, in the words of a colleague, “old enough to drive.” Another colleague had spent his entire legal career litigating the case and he’d been in practice since 1986.
I was in my second year of college when the State of California discovered groundwater contamination near the Stringfellow waste site and closed it to new deposits. I was in my twenty-fourth year of legal practice when I re-learned the site’s factual history for the purpose of taking expert witness depositions concerning investigation and remediation costs that the State’s insurance carriers might, or might not, be obliged to pay. I was twenty years old when the contamination was discovered and fifty-two years old when I became (for the second time) a part of the State of California insurance coverage action.
Now, the California Supreme Court has sent the case back down to the trial court to try “material issues of fact” concerning the discharge of pollutants in 1969 before the site was closed and and in 1978, six years after the contamination was first discovered.
These are the cases that made me want to find an alternative to litigation. The cases that sent me back to Dickens’ Bleak House. The cases that made me believe there must be a more efficient way of handling disputes of this magnitude.
There simply must.
And this just in from the Washington Post — ready? Sitting down? Here it comes . . . .
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