Saturday, March 1, 2008

Supreme Court Hears the Exxon Valdez Case

This week the Supreme Court heard the historic case of Exxon v. Baker. At issue should Exxon pay punitive damages and if so how much. I'm interested in this case in terms of how it will shape public opinion during the Alaska Gas Pipeline debate. I found a few items of interest while reading the hearing transcript. First the justices didn't seem to buy the argument that Exxon is not liable for punitive damages.

Secondly Exxon during an exchange with Justice Ginsburg, Exxon attorney Dellinger hinted at a new trail to answer the question "Was Exxon, itself, reckless in allowing this captain to stay on the ship?" (page 18).

Finally the Court spent some time looking at the amount of the award. On page 31 of the transcript Dellinger floats the idea the maximum punitive damages should not exceed twice actual damages. The Justices focused on this issue and grilled the Plaintiff's attorney Mr. Fisher.

Predictions: In late May or June the Court will find that Exxon must pay punitive damages, but the amount will be lowered to somewhere in the $1 Billion range.

The reduced damages will fuel the anti oil company fever that seems to cloud the gas pipeline debate.

Here's a good review in the Cordova Times.

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