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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Court tells Exxon to quit procrastinating and pay for damages caused by Valdez spill

America's biggest oil company today lost a round in a long running court battle concerning the Exxon Valdez disaster:
A U.S. appeals court declined Wednesday to reconsider its decision to make Exxon Mobil Corp. pay $2.5 billion in punitive damages for the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.

The punitive damages ruling against Exxon - originally $5 billion in 1994 - has been the subject of a long legal battle between the oil company and 32,000 fishermen, Alaska natives and property owners who were awarded the damages.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals based in San Francisco has already looked at the Exxon Valdez case on three occasions, taking into account new U.S. Supreme Court rulings in later examinations of the biggest oil spill in U.S. history.
Exxon executives just don't know when to call it a day. They already won a judgment limiting the damages. The company, which rivals Wal-Mart for the title of America's most greedy corporation (and is the sixth biggest air polluter in the country), now says it will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

If history is any indication, they won't get a sympathetic reception. The Supreme Court previously let stand the $5 billion punitive damage verdict, rejecting without comment an appeal by the company on grounds of jury irregularities (one of the stalling techniques employed by the company's lawyers).

To minimize the amount of damages that could be awarded for future oil spills, Exxon in 1993 spun off its tanker division into a subsidiary known as "SeaRiver Maritime" with a separate corporate charter and board of directors.

And the old ship that ran aground in Prince William Sound?
The renamed [Exxon Valdez] tanker is legally owned by a small, allegedly under capitalized, stand-alone company, which would have minimal ability to pay out on claims in the event of a further accident.
For more on ExxonMobil and its unethical business practices, see As the World Burns from Mother Jones. Joel Connelly also has a post on the Ninth Circuit's decision with background on the case at Strange Bedfellows.

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