ExxonMobil Awaits Ruling

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ExxonMobil Awaits Ruling

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- Plaintiffs who sued Exxon Corp. after the nation's worst oil spill in 1989 argued in federal court a $5 billion punitive fine assessed against the company should be largely upheld.

But attorneys for the successor to Exxon, Exxon Mobil Corp., said the world's largest publicly traded oil company should pay no more than $40 million, based on guidelines issued in an appeals court decision last year that found a 1994 jury verdict against the corporation to be excessive, according to the Associated Press.

The arguments were made before U.S. District Court Judge H. Russel Holland, who presided over the 1994 trial. The Ninth Circuit Court decision, issued last November, sent the case back to Holland for adjustment of the jury's fine.

Exxon Mobil has argued in court motions filed earlier this year the spill case lacks the "aggravating factors," such as malicious actions or violence, that would justify a large punitive award. John Daum, the corporation's attorney.

But the plaintiffs -- thousands of fishermen, Alaska Natives, property owners, other individuals and municipalities -- believe constitutional case law supports a punitive verdict of at least $4 billion, said Dave Oesting, a lead plaintiff attorney.

After a hearing that lasted about two hours, Holland promised a decision as soon as possible, the report said.

The Exxon Valdez supertanker spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil when it grounded on a charted reef in Alaska's Prince William Sound. It was the worst spill from a tanker in U.S. waters and polluted more than 1,200 miles of shoreline.

Exxon Mobil has said the corporation spent $2.2 billion on the cleanup and quickly paid claims of $300 million to injured Alaskans. In 1991, Exxon settled the federal and state governments' natural-resource damage claims for $1.025 billion. That amount was paid out over 10 years.