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JUNEAU, Alaska -- ExxonMobil Corp. plans to argue to the U.S. Supreme Court next year that the $2.5 billion punitive damages verdict for its 1989 Valdez tanker oil spill contradicts 200 years of maritime law, The Associated Press reported.
The Exxon Valdez tanker hit a reef in Prince William Sound 18 years ago and spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil that marred more than 1,200 miles of coastline in Prince William Sound. The Irving, Texas, oil company has been fighting the civil judgment -- originally set at $5 billion -- since the 1994 trial.
ExxonMobil has maintained that it should not be held responsible for the ship's captain, Joseph Hazelwood, who the company said violated clear company rules when the ship ran aground on March 23, 1989. According to a recent court brief Exxon filed:
-- Punitive damages should not be "awarded against a ship owner based solely on the conduct of a ship's master;"
-- Punitive damages for spills, such as the Exxon Valdez, are "not available in federal maritime tort actions;"
-- Maritime law does not permit punitive damages.
The plaintiffs' attorneys have argued that the maritime law Exxon is embracing no longer has current application. Rather, they claim it was meant for ships leaving port with the risk of not being seen by their owners for months, if not years. Technological advances mean communication is ongoing, they argue, according to the AP report.
Since the accident, Exxon has said it took immediate responsibility and spent $3.5 billion in compensation, fines and cleanup. The company asserts that even the reduced civil judgment of $2.5 billion is excessive and wants the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the trial and appellate courts collective rulings.