Exxon Shipping Company v. Baker
Public Justice joined an amicus brief that urged the U.S. Supreme Court to reject Exxon’s bid to evade full punishment for the harms caused by the wreck of the Exxon Valdez oil tanker in Alaska’s Prince William Sound in 1989. A 1994 jury ordered Exxon to pay $5 billion in punitive damages for economic harm and devastation to the people and commercial fisheries in the formerly pristine area. The federal district court and appeals court upheld the verdict, but Exxon kept fighting and ultimately got the verdict cut in half to $2.5 billion. The oil giant then persuaded the Supreme Court to take the case, arguing that the company should be totally insulated from punitive damages because the case arises under maritime law. The Court agreed with Public Justice and other amici that the punitive damages award is not preempted by federal law, but in late June 2008, the Court held that the punitive damages award was excessive. Exxon Mobil set an annual profit record of $40.61 billion in 2007.