In recent decades, governments across the country have brought numerous lawsuits against businesses based on a novel interpretation of the legal doctrine of “public nuisance”. Once intended to address a narrow field of conduct interfering with a public right (usually tethered to land use), the public nuisance doctrine was made largely obsolete through the expansion of the regulatory state during the 20th century. However, governments (and the aggressive private lawyers who represent them) now seek to transform this doctrine into a new, limitless cause of action against businesses that manufacture everyday products. In their ideal world, any societal ill connected with a particular product would sustain a massive lawsuit against the business that produces the product. Of course, these lawyers would then take a cut of any settlement or verdict in the lawsuit.
Fortunately, the New Jersey Supreme Court has rejected this novel and destructive theory of liability. However, there are ongoing attempts by New Jersey lawmakers to undo the Court’s decision and allow for this expansive view of the public nuisance doctrine to exist in the state. If such legislation is enacted, it will lead to vast legal uncertainty for vital New Jersey industries, which will in turn chill continued capital investment and economic growth. Accordingly, NJCJI works with its allies in the business community and subject-matter experts to explain to policymakers in Trenton why this disturbing trend is bad for New Jersey.