Thousands of Alaska fishermen and other Plaintiffs have received their share of punitive damages in the Exxon Valdez oil spill lawsuit. Judge H. Russel Holland ordered the release of $151 million of the negotiated $383 million settlement in the lawsuit filed in the nation’s worst oil spill nearly two decades ago. The residents of Prince William Sound and those adversely affected by the devastating effects of the Exxon Valdez oil spill have been treated like most folks who deal with the powerful oil giant in our court system and that’s generally bad. In any event, the payments of the punitive damages will bring a sense of closure to the Valdez victims.
The remaining $232 million of the settlement negotiated with Exxon will be paid out later. Under that agreement, the money will be distributed to nearly 33,000 commercial fishermen and others who sued Exxon after the 1989 spill of crude in Prince William Sound. As everybody who has followed the Valdez saga knows, the tanker Exxon Valdez on March 23, 1989, hit Bligh Reef and spilled nearly 11 million gallons of oil into Prince William Sound. A jury in 1994 awarded Plaintiffs $5 billion. That was cut in half by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court in late June, by a 5-3 vote, reduced the total to $507 million. The High Court didn’t rule on whether Exxon should pay interest and sent that issue back to the Ninth Circuit Court for a decision. Oral arguments took place in December on that issue. Interest calculated since 1994 would add an estimated $488 million, boosting awards to individuals from roughly $15,000 to about $29,400. Exxon contends it does not have to pay interest. Dan Lawn, president of the Alaska Forum for Environmental Responsibility, made this observation:
Exxon has done everything it can to twist the legal system into trying to get out of shouldering its financial responsibility.
Many believe Exxon came out smelling like a rose in this lawsuit. For example, Stan Stephens with the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens Advisory Committee said the small checks were a “slap in the face” to the people of Prince William Sound and all coastal areas of south central Alaska. “It’s good they got something but it’s far too little,” he said, adding he’s never been able to forgive Exxon for the spill. Stephens made this observation: “The least they could have done was make some people whole.” I don’t believe the bosses at Exxon understand that principle, nor do they care about the folks they hurt.
Source: Associated Press
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