The US Supreme Court today (Tuesday) declined to rule on the issue of whether plaintiffs in the Exxon Valdez oil spill case should receive interest on top of their already reduced punitive damages from the 1989 spill that fouled thousands of miles of Alaska’s coastline from Prince William Sound to Kodiak and beyond. KMXT’s Casey Kelly has more.
The court decided, “without prejudice,” to send the issue back the 9th Circuit Court to decide. Andrew Ott is a plaintiffs’ attorney with Jamin, Schmitt, St. John in Kodiak. He says the decision by the high court was not unexpected.
(Exxon Interest 1 :31s “…interest issue on first impression.”)
The Supreme Court ruled in June that punitive damages should be no greater than compensatory damages, which plaintiffs have already received. That works out to be about 507.5 million dollars, one-tenth of the original jury award in 1994. Plaintiffs had been seeking an interest rate of 5.9 percent from September 24, 1996, which would have added an additional 488-million onto the award.
Ott says he expects the 9th Circuit Court to add the interest. Unfortunately that opens up the possibility of more appeals by Exxon.
(Exxon Interest 2 :11s “…is gonna do that… who knows?”)
Ott says it’s frustrating, considering that the case has lingered in the courts for nearly two decades already.
(Exxon Interest 3 :14s “…bounce back to the 9th Circuit.”)
For Stosh Anderson, a fisherman and plaintiff in the case, the Supreme Court’s action means more uncertainty.
(Exxon Interest 4 :20s “…so they don’t have to pay.”)
Anderson says the spill continues to impact thousands of lives in coastal Alaska, and it’s hard to see a resolution coming to the case anytime soon.
(Exxon Interest 5 :24s “…if I’ll be alive to see it.”)
The 9th Circuit Court, based in San Francisco, decided in 2006 that Exxon should have to pay 2.5 billion dollars in punitive damages. Ott says the court’s decision in the interest case could be issued in as soon as 30 days.
I’m Casey Kelly.