Eleven million gallons of North Slope crude oil began pouring out of the Exxon Valdez oil tanker into the pristine waters of Alaska’s Prince William Sound. Hundreds of thousands of fish, seabirds, bald eagles, otters, seals and whales were maimed and killed. The native communities whose lives depended on those waters for commercial and subsistence fishing were, and still are, devastated.
In 1994, ExxonMobil was found “reckless” by judge and jury and ordered to pay $5 billion in punitive damages to the 34,000 victims of the spill. ExxonMobil argues it should pay only $25 million. The company has appealed every verdict since, dragging the victims through thirteen years of litigation. Some 6,000 plaintiffs have died awaiting compensation. In 2006, the damages were lowered to $2.5 billion based on a recent Supreme Court ruling that lowers punitive damage awards. ExxonMobil has asked the court to reconsider.
After eighteen years and countless false promises, ExxonMobil has still not paid the billions of dollars in punitive damages that the courts have determined it owes the spill victims--this despite the fact that the company posted the most profitable year in 2006 of any corporation in history. In 1994, a federal court in Anchorage, Alaska, awarded $5 billion in punitive damages to fishermen, Native Alaskans, and other plaintiffs in a class action suit against the oil giant. But rather than accepting its obligations Exxon has been fighting the verdict, employing hundreds of lawyers, filing countless appeals and effectively buying science that supports its claims.
This has added injury to injury as more than 30,000 people whose lives and livelihood were disrupted by the spill have now been dragged through years of litigation. During this time, according to the advocacy group ExposeExxon whose excellent mailing prompted this column, 6,000 plaintiffs have died waiting for compensation.
If there is grounds for the death penalty to be inflicted upon an individual, there is grounds for a corporate death penalty: Death To Exxon!