Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Exxon Valdez Oil Spill

The Supreme Court is reviewing a lower court ruling awarding $2.5 billion in punitive damages for a 1989 oil spill occurring in Prince William Sound, Alaska. Exxon argues that it should not be liable for the negligence of the oil tanker’s skipper. The award would be peanuts for Exxon who saw a $39.5 billion profit in 2007. It would mean a lot to thousands of commercial fishermen, seafood processors, and native Alaskans whose livelihood has been damaged. Why should a rich corporation be able to tie up the case for 19 years? Where is justice?


Tracy said...

I think this is because our political tendency the past decade has been to build institutions so that _those who have the gold make the rules_. Good structure would seem to dictate that the bulk of the punitive damages go to those who were harmed, rather than to law firms.

Jeff Deutsch said...


There might well be merits to the original lower court ruling. But your post doesn't give any of them. As best I can tell, all you say is "It's just over 6% of its total profits [you don't even say whether pre-tax or post-tax] last year, the people who would get it are a lot poorer and there is some plausible reason/excuse why Exxon might be liable - it hired the skipper. So let's just redistribute the money."

Is it an absolute legal slam-dunk that since the skipper was on Exxon's payroll respondeat superior always and everywhere holds? If so, please elaborate a bit on that. If not, unfortunately the civil courts are not a good venue for sharing the wealth.


Jeff Deutsch