One would not expect to go a semester in a Remedies class without hearing about the Exxon Valdez case. The Exxon Valdez oil spill was one of the largest, and most expensive, environmental accidents in the history of the United States. The tanker hit Prince William Sound’s Bligh Reef and spilled an estimated 10.8 million gallons of crude oil into the Sound. The impact of the spill on the Alaska native villages continues to “hold the region hostage.”
The accident occurred nearly twenty years ago, yet the class action brought by 32,677 local fisherman impacted by the tragedy, has continued for over thirteen years. Today, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that a fractured Supreme Court issued a ruling that the $2.5 billion in punitive damages awarded against Exxon Mobil was excessive. The opinion, authored by Justice Souter, stated the following: “The award here should be limited to an amount equal to compensatory damages.” ($287 million has been awarded against Exxon Mobil in the suit.) The Court concluded that federal environmental laws do not bar punitive damage awards.
To date, Exxon Mobil has paid $3.4 billion in clean-up costs, remediation and fines. The tanker itself has been retired after an unsuccessful attempt to rename it (Sea River Mediterranean). The slip-op can be read here.