Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Class Action

Result: $1.5 billion in awards and other payments
Year: 2006

In re Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Litigation

The Exxon Valdez ran aground in March of 1989, spilling 11 million gallons of oil into Prince William Sound. Lieff Cabraser served as one of the court-appointed Plaintiffs’ Class Counsel. The class consisted of 32,000 fishermen, Alaska natives, landowners, and others whose livelihoods were gravely affected by the disaster. In addition, Lieff served on the Class Trial Team in 1994. A class action jury trial was held in federal court in 1994. The jury returned an award of $5 billion in punitive damages.

In 2001, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the original $5 billion punitive damages verdict was excessive. In 2002, U.S. District Court Judge H. Russell Holland reinstated the award at $4 billion. Judge Holland stated that, “Exxon officials knew that carrying huge volumes of crude oil through Prince William Sound was a dangerous business, yet they knowingly permitted a relapsed alcoholic to direct the operation of the Exxon Valdez through Prince William Sound.”

In 2003, the Ninth Circuit again directed Judge Holland to reconsider the punitive damages award under United States Supreme Court punitive damages guidelines. In January 2004, Judge Holland issued his order finding that Supreme Court authority did not change the Court’s earlier analysis.

In December 2006, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its ruling, setting the punitive damages award at $2.5 billion. Subsequently, the U.S. Supreme Court further reduced the punitive damages award to $507.5 million, an amount equal to the compensatory damages. With interest, the total award to the plaintiff class was $1.515 billion.

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