General Litigation

NH Jury Orders Exxon to Pay $236 Million in Gas Additive Lawsuit. Exxon Says ” Yeah, We Make That in About Two Days.”

OK – so Exxon did not say that, but its true! The jurors reached their verdicts in under two hours, even though the trial took nearly three months. According to the Associated Press, lawyers on both sides were stunned by the speed with which they reached the verdict on liability and even more stunned when the jurors took barely 20 minutes more to fill out the damages verdict. The panel awarded the state all $236 million it was seeking to monitor and remediate groundwater contaminated by MTBE. The chemical was added to gasoline to reduce smog but was found to travel farther and faster in groundwater than gasoline without the additive. The jury found damages in the amount of $816 million, but that award was reduced to 28.9 percent of the total — reflecting Exxon’s market share of gasoline sold in the state between 1988 and 2005.Exxon will of course appeal. In 2009, jurors awarded the New York City Water District $105 Million in its case against Exxon Mobil over MTBE contamination but that case is still on appeal.
While this is a huge success, and credit should be given to the San Francisco law firm Sher, Leff that brought this and the NYC case, the case still tells of the risk, danger and hurdles in bringing such lawsuits against such large companies. Certainly few or no private citizens or companies could take these claims on, so States must be the plaintiffs. Then, even when you win after a lengthy trial, you face a lengthy appeal process. In a three month trial over a complicated issue, there is certainly the possibility of error that brings the case back. Exxon for example is likely to argue that they presented evidence that more than 300 junkyard and gas station owners not named in the lawsuit were responsible for much of the contamination. In an AP news release about the verdict Exxon lawyer David Lender stated “We appreciate the jurors’ service during this long trial, but erroneous rulings prevented them from hearing all the evidence and deprived us of a fair trial.” At trial, a financial analyst testified that the $236 Million would represent approximately two days worth of Exxon Mobil’s profits. So that puts the big number in perspective when you wonder whether it would be and deterrent against doing the very same thing with another product in the future.

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