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US: Court halves Exxon spill damages

BBC News Online
December 22nd, 2006

A US court has almost halved the damages oil giant Exxon Mobil must pay for a 1989 oil spill off Alaska.

The San Francisco Federal appeals court reduced the payment from $4.5bn (£2.3bn) to $2.5bn, saying the previous decision had been excessive.

It is the third time damages in the case have been reduced.

The case - started in 1994 by more than 32,000 fishermen, native Alaskans and property owners - is one of the longest non-criminal ones in US history.

In the original court ruling, Exxon was ordered to pay out $5bn.

Later decisions ordered the a lower Alaskan court to set a lower limit for the penalty, but refused to say how much the penalty should be cut by.

However, in the latest 2-1 judgement, Chief Judge Mary Schroeder and Judge Andrew Kleinfeld declared it was "time for this protracted litigation to end."


Exxon was not immediately available for comment.

However, the firm has previously argued that it should have to pay no more than $25m in punitive damages in the case as it has spent $3.5bn on cleaning up the affected area and compensating victims of the spill.

David Oesting, the lawyer leading the effort against Exxon Mobil for the Alaskans affected by the spill, said he was considering whether to ask for the case to be reheard by 15 judges or whether to take it to the Supreme Court.

The Exxon Valdez supertanker spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound, polluting around 2,000km of coastline. Its captain, Joseph Hazelwood, admitted drinking vodka before boarding the vessel, but was acquitted of operating a ship while intoxicated.

The disaster is estimated to have killed 250,000 seabirds, 2,800 sea otters, 300 harbour seals, 250 bald eagles, up to 22 killer whales, and an unknown number of salmon and herring.

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