Big oil and big tobacco have always had one major advantage when it comes to lawsuits. Their pot of money to defend themselves is on a different scale to the opposition. Lose one round, and they just fight on – and appeal it. Lose that and keep on appealing.

That’s why it took decades for someone to win against big tobacco, even after it was scientifically proven that they were selling one of the most addictive substances known to man which has been causally linked to cancer for over half a century. That’s why Exxon is still in the courts twenty years after the Exxon Valdez.

That’s why Shell is only just about to go to court later this month charged with complicity to murder the Ogoni writer, Ken Saro-Wiwa. Its taken fourteen years just to get the company to court.  See the good article in today’s New York Times.

Shell knows that if it loses the groundbreaking WiwavShell case later this month it can always appeal. And if it loses that appeal it can do so again. All the way to the top. To the Supreme Court. It can drag the process on for years to come, until hopefully it wins.

In this regard it will take heart from a ruling by the Supreme Court this week that says its subsidiary Shell Oil Co cannot be held responsible for cleanup of a contaminated Superfund site in Arvin, California, owned by a defunct company simply because it delivered chemicals to the site.

Shell and the two railroads argued they should not be held liable for the majority of the more than $8 million spent by the government on cleanup costs at the abandoned farm chemical storage facility.

Voting 8-1, the Supreme Court overturned a ruling by the U.S. appeals court that Shell and the railroads could be held liable for almost the full cost of the cleanup. of the cleanup costs at just 9 percent.

Only one Judge Justice Ginsburg dissented, saying she would’ve upheld the ruling against Shell. “Given the control rein held by Shell over the mode of delivery and transfer,” she wrote, “Shell was properly ranked an arranger.”

The Shell lawyers will be smiling all the way to the bank.