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

Publication Date: 
June 26, 2008
USA Today
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.