We'll publish this item in our newspaper tomorrow:
By WESLEY LOY
Lawyers for commercial fishermen and others claiming harm from the 1989 oil spill want the U.S. Supreme Court to either reject Exxon Mobil’s appeal of a $2.5 billion punitive damages award or grant a larger amount.
The lawyers made the request in a petition sent to the high court Tuesday.
The petition comes about a week after Exxon appealed, arguing the $2.5 billion ordered by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco is grossly excessive.
Supreme Court justices are not obliged to hear the epic civil case.
If they don’t, the appellate decision stands.
Lawyers for almost 33,000 commercial fishermen, cannery workers, Natives, local governments and businesses have said they expect the high court to decide by year’s end whether to take the case.
In their petition, the plaintiffs’ lawyers first urge the Supreme Court to reject Exxon’s appeal, which if granted “could prolong the case for many years to come.”
If the case is accepted, they ask the justices to consider not only whether the 9th Circuit punitive damages award was too large, but too small.
The lawyers argue the $5 billion in damages an Anchorage jury originally awarded in 1994 is proper.
The plaintiffs’ petition accuses Exxon of “highly reprehensible” conduct in employing Joseph Hazelwood as captain of the Exxon Valdez, the oil tanker that ran aground in Prince William Sound and spilled nearly 11 million gallons of North Slope crude.
“Hazelwood was a relapsed alcoholic, and Exxon knew it,” the petition says.
It adds that in 18 years of litigation about 20 percent of the plaintiffs have died and Exxon, as a business, has “more than recouped the entire amount of the original $5 billion verdict.”