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5-3 Ruling Slashes $2.5B Penalty In Exxon Valdez Case

Publication Date: 
June 26, 2008
Source: 
USA Today
Author: 
Joan Biskupic

Jeffrey Fisher is quoted in USA Today about yesterday's Supreme Court decision to reduce the punitive damages awards in the Exxon Valdez oil spill case:

The lawyer for the 32,677 Alaskans whose businesses were disrupted when the vessel hit Bligh Reef expressed disappointment. "Over 20% of them have died since the spill. And a large percentage of them have gone bankrupt," Stanford University law professor Jeffrey Fisher said. "Every time a court chips away at the award, it's a fresh injury. This is the final blow."

A jury initially awarded $5 billion in punitive damages, after finding Exxon Valdez captain Joseph Hazelwood and Exxon reckless. Evidence at the 1994 trial showed that Hazelwood, who had a record of alcohol-related problems and had been drinking before the crash, left his post on the bridge as the supertanker faced a difficult turn.

A U.S. appeals court cut the $5 billion in half, and the award remained the subject of litigation for a decade. In the end, Fisher said, the money will be distributed based on the severity of an individual's loss. He estimated the average award now at $15,000.